You can wear white clothes to work tomorrow. You can wear them this weekend. White pants, white jacket. White shoes. White shoes are hard to pull off, but bless your heart if you can and if you can, go for it. The idea that a person can’t wear white after Labor Day is a myth. It must be squished.
Labor Day was several weeks ago, but this comes up because I overheard a woman at the airport talking to her husband about the no-white rule. “I couldn’t believe it,” the woman said, selecting a french fry from a McDonald’s bag and popping it in her mouth. “Barb was wearing white after Labor Day.” The lady was dressed in a sweatsuit with be-pom-pommed Uggs on her feet.
The notion that it’s gauche to white after Labor Day is about 100 years old and was kind of a trick played on people by a bunch of mean girls who didn’t have to work for a living like the rest of us for heaven’s sake. Rich folk in American cities around the turn of the 20th century had things like sideboards and china; their children were given dolls and Turkish delight for Christmas; they also decided to turn “summer” into a verb. Summering meant leaving the city for the country for the hottest months of the year. August was dismal enough without having to direct the carriage through all those sweaty proletariats, after all — and those stinky factories! Best to go to Lake Geneva or the Hamptons and wait till the steaming, teeming masses cooled off.
White clothes made from lightweight material do feel cooler than clothes made from other colors. The lady in a white linen dress seems quite at home at a picnic table in June; the lady in brown crepe is clearly trying to ruin everyone’s fun. But the choice of white clothing in the time period I’ve just described was not just for the purposes of body temperature; it was a status symbol. Could you afford to summer? Could you afford an entire new wardrobe for three months out of the year every year? No? Gosh, that’s too bad, Julia. I’m sure I have a dress from last year you could — oh, actually, no: I dropped a lamb chop with mint jelly on it during the Sumnter’s garden party last July and Hilde had to throw it out. How is your mother?
Labor Day became a national holiday in 1894 and it made sense to the mean girls to use the day as the cut off date for white. Anyone who wore white after Labor Day clearly wasn’t cool enough to know the rules, so they could snicker and stuff because there are rules, dummy. In the 1950s, the whole Jackie O., Dior silhouette, let’s be ladies thing perpetuated this old rule and so all of us still think it’s a thing. But it’s really not. I get upset about it because it doesn’t make sense and I love wearing white. The colors I look best in are white and black (but never together.) To cut white out of my wardrobe for the majority of the year is silly. So this is personal, you see, this archaic notion.
Tomorrow’s challenge: white pants to the office. Do it. Come on! I will if you will. Have I mentioned I work at home?