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Do not wear white after Labor Day.

Of all the rules, not wearing white after Labor Day in the US is the most disconnected from its intention.

Yet it is fervently followed. Wearing white attracts the ire of many people who would otherwise have no opinions on correct dress or style. They certainly would not point out that notch lapels are anathema on a tuxedo.

For example, in an online discussion on this rule, one person comments: “White should never be worn between Labor Day and Easter. It is called good manners. Only the ignorant of decorum would say…oh, it doesn’t matter. It shows how much education and attention to propriety a person has. Only break the rule if you want people to think you do not know any better.”

Can you feel the vitriol spattering up onto you?

The reasoning behind the rule is simple. You wear white in the summer because the weather is brighter. It is usually sunnier, the sun is higher in the sky, and so it is generally brighter. And light-coloured clothes suit brighter weather, just like dark colours dominate evening events.

Other light colours are equally summery – tan linen jackets, seersucker suits, spectator shoes – and suit brighter weather.

But that doesn’t mean it’s never bright in winter. Indeed, the frosty and blue-skied days of December often seem the brightest, if only by contrast to the leaden days that surround them.

White is the lightest of colours and therefore only suited to the brightest of days.

In order to make it easier to communicate about the harmony of colours and weather, a rule was invented: only wear white in the summer months, here defined as between Easter and Labor Day. Like all rules, it loses in nuance what it gains in immediacy.

Once you know why that rule exists, it is easy to break it with impunity. Winter whites can look simply lovely, although creams and off-whites will generally be most practical and flattering.

Trousers are probably the easiest rule-breaker to go for, as they are after all not far off the ubiquitous American chino in colour. I’d go for jacket next, with shoes last.

It is no coincidence that this rule is dominant in the US, yet barely known in the UK.

The weather in much of the US, particularly the east coast, is consistent enough to link sun with particular months, and so produce a sensible rule. In London, where you are just as likely to have grim rain in July and a week of sun in January, the rule seems absurd.

That is what the rule means, and understanding it allows you to break it intelligently. Wear white when it’s bright.

 

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CodePoet

Simon, as a post-college 25 year old man seeking to refine his personal style, I am quite indebted to your writing. You actually write about style and theory, not just advertisements for big-name labels. Keep it up!

All that said, I’ve been invited to a Valentine’s Day party with the instruction “Since it’s Valentines day, everyone will be encouraged to wear either RED if you’re single, or WHITE if you’re taken!”

I try to add a little flair when possible, so I’m contemplating wearing my white linen silk trousers instead of opting for the easier (and safer) white shirt. Do you have any tips to help me pull off this maneuver?
-Eric

Lark

I really appreciate this post. I always disagreed with that rule, and now I know I can enjoy my white trousers and shoes more often after Labour day.
Thank you so much for sharing great information always.
-N.

Tillage

I completely Disaagree with white is ONLY for the summer months…

I live in Los Angeles and it’s Summer (weather) 75% of the year! therefore wearing heavy , dark winter fabrics and colors do not go over well here. also, i think that was a rule for the eastcoast and colder climate cities… it certainly doesn’t apply here in LA.

Cameron Newland

You ought to consider switching up the order of Labor Day and Easter in the following sentence:

“…the summer months, here defined as between Labor Day and Easter…”

‘Between Labor Day and Easter’ is September through April, hardly ‘Summer’. I think you mean the reverse (as in summer being April through September).

empress

apparently this rule was born around the 19th century and mainly was used to refer to white pumps, or those who rose to society through their prosperity and new no better…

hawkan

Worth to mention is also that there is a practical reason for wearing white when it is hot. White reflects light (thats is why it is white) while darker colours absorb it (that is why black is black). Therefore, on a sunny day a white garment is cooler than a black one, because it kind of fends off the sunrays.

hawkan

Worth to mention is also that there is a practical reason for wearing white when it is hot. White reflects light (thats is why it is white) while darker colours absorb it (that is why black is black). Therefore, on a sunny day a white garment is cooler than a black one, because it kind of fends off the sunrays.

unpolire

Yachting is another area in which the rule just does not apply. I also live in Los Angeles where picnic-style dress applies most of the year. Many a Christmas Day here has been with a cloudless blue sky and over 70 degrees f. Let your location in the world be your guide.

OP

Only muppets follow the rules…

facebook_Kyle Haemig.10152887763576274

An alternate explanation for the “no white after Labor Day” rule is social mores during especially the 1930s. White is a color that even today requires extra/specialist care, and worse was not a color that you can wear as much outside as inside. If you wore white a lot, this was seen as you broadcasting your job working inside and your wealth. The Labor Day part was a somewhat arbitrary addition to restrict it somehow, and it was to the sunny season.
While it’s sadly true that I don’t have historical references to back it up, if so the rule is completely obsolete.

Evan Everhart

Hi Simon,

I absolutely love yr briefcase in the last photograph here! If I may enquire, what is the make and manufacturer?

I have been on the hunt for a fairly discrete and traditional, but not clunky brown briefcase for some time now. I have my old black calf skin one that was given to me as a gift for my first managerial position, but I honestly want a brown one.

Suggestions for reasonably priced ones with classic styling as the one above, and information on that one if still an available model would be greatly appreciated.

In fact, if it does not already exist, I would love to see an article on briefcases and the sort and I strongly believe that they would be beneficial and informative! Much better to see a briefcase than another canvas tote bag as if visiting the beach, or a folio as if making a presentation of an art piece! Even when I was making presentations of my illustrations and other works, I disliked folios as stand along professional luggage as they are solely meant in my view to hold the piece in question, and to be placed within the briefcase, that is why they do not have handles or straps….And why they are an inconvenient carry along piece of professional personal luggage.

Please expound and inform, Sir! 🙂

Evan Everhart

Hi Simon,

Fascinating! It strongly resembles in form, the US Officers’ briefcases from WWII that occasionally come up on Ebay in either less than adequate condition, or at a less than adequate price point for a used good. I do love it!

I will love to see read yr excellently researched and intelligently presented and discussed/analyzed article upon the subject of personal professional luggage, Simon, and I shall be looking eagerly forward to it! I am assuming the quality as I’ve seen precious little that fell short in substance in yr run of created material.

Have a most excellent day, Sir!

Stuart Burrow

Hi Simon, with summer approaching and white jeans and shorts slowly starting to emerge, what is your view on seeing the pocket lining through the material of said pants and shorts? Is there any fabrics that disguise this a little better or is it ‘acceptable’!