Somewhere between the Stuart Weitzman suede thigh-high Boots and the Alexander Wang fishnet booties, a mother was scolding her daughter. “Oh, darling. I’m not buying you those shoes. I raised you better than that; you can’t wear white after Labor Day!” Both women, one discouraged and one disgusted, stormed out of Saks. I looked at my two young daughters and considered (for just a moment), if this “rule” was another social standard I was expected teach them as their mother.
The post–Labor Day ban on white clothing and accessories has long ranked among etiquette hard-liners’ most revered rules. In the 1994 movie Serial Mom, Patty Hearst’s character was murdered by a psychotic sartorial purist as punishment for wearing white shoes. But ask the average woman how that rule came to be, and chances are, she couldn’t explain it.
So Why Aren’t We Supposed to Wear White After Labor Day?
While no one is completely sure exactly when or why this fashion rule came into effect, as fashion legend has it, it had to do with snobbery in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Long before you could wear cropped tops and sneakers to a zagat rated restaurant — old money elitist wives were engaged in an unspoken battle with the nouveau riche. It’s been alleged that these upper-class ladies took great pride in finding new and exciting ways to enforce the exclusivity of their social strata, so they got together and imposed fashion codes that everyone was expected to follow at social events.
Having money alone wasn’t enough, you had to use that money to look and act a certain way. As the writer, (A)Kate Bejamin put it, “if a woman showed up at the opera in a dress that cost more than most Americans made in a year, but it had the wrong sleeve length, other women would know not to give her the time of day.” But even though the rule was originally enforced several decades ago by a few hundred high society women, it still has trickled down to the rest of us. In theory, all of us are suckers for still being controlled by these bored post-Civil War wives.
Although the skepticism of breaking this Labor Day law has seeped into mainstream America, these days the fashion world is much more relaxed about what colors to wear and when. In Emily Post’s Etiquette, 17th Edition, the manners bible gives the go-ahead for wearing white after Labor Day. Which may explain why those who had abided by this archaic ettique practice in the past, are now willing to compromise. And then there’s fashion icon Coco Chanel who wore white all year-round, which is all of the justification anyone needs.
6 White Pieces to Add to Your Wardrobe
So before you pack away your white clothes come September, consider white to be the transitional color you never knew you needed. Head-to-toe black is always “safe”, but nothing stands out quite like a crisp, all-white look as the temperatures begin to drop. Ahead, are 6 pieces to consider adding to your wardrobe — today, tomorrow, or even (gasp) after Labor Day.
1Pair white with “dark color season-appropriate” shoes
If you’re wanting to dip your toe in the water when it comes to wearing winter whites, then wear a white blazer dress with black staples. Safe but so chic, there’s nothing more powerful than a suit, and one in crisp white ensures that you’ll look sleek for any occasion. To be fair, all-white everything can get a touch boring. Pair the power outfit with dark, wintery shoes to break it up.
2Opt for heavier textured fabrics (think cashmere, wool and twill) to keep your look seasonally appropriate
Opt for a comfortable monochromatic look in interesting textures. When the temperatures start to drop – put together a comfortable monochromatic look in interesting textures. Pairing a cashmere jogger with a coordinating sweater equals top-to-toe coziness. The contrast between black and white can be super chic with this look. The easiest way to get it totally spot on? Wear your cozy knit ensemble with aviators and edgy combat boots or black loafer. It’s a surefire way to look achingly cool.
3When in doubt, reach for a white statement coat
This season, it’s all about a statement coat. A white faux-fur pick will always be playful, and when in doubt, a shaggy white coat will instantly elevate your look—even if you’re finishing it off with a simple tee, jeans, and sneakers.
4Explore a new shoe frontier with a white Western Boot
Western dressing has been floating in the ether for about a year now, but full-on cowboy is a bit intimidating. Since the boots are the most important part of any Western look, find a stunning pointed toe style, and show them off with a skirt or cropped jean to make them the focus. No horse required.
5Take the look to well-tailored places in ultra-elegant white jeans
There’s one really good way to break the “no white after Labor Day” mandate: denim. However, these can read the wrong season unless they’re in a fall fabric. They’ve got to be rigid, chalky, zero-stretch jeans. Go monochromatic from head-to-toe by using your denim as a base and mixing varying shades of white and camel. Add a cream top and a classically tailored tan coat to dress it all up.
6Monochrome looks best when topped off with a red lipstick
Cold weather got you down? Add some punch to your winter white fashions with a bright red lipstick. The modern minimalism of a red-and-white palette is perfect for a Saturday night. And when you are bouncing between holiday parties during the busiest time of the year, a winter white look paired with a swipe of this fiery color is just oh-so festive.
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