By: Amelia Smith
Photos by: Chloe McGill
Okay, to be perfectly honest, I am one of those people who clears all traces of white from her wardrobe after Labor Day. From a young age, my mom instilled in me the notion that it is not proper to wear white throughout the fall and winter, unless of course it is a sweater or coat. In fact, she called me a few weeks ago to ask if I could send my whites and summer clothes back home. Now, she absolutely has a point. People generally don’t wear white cotton button downs or white jeans into the winter months, but what about white sneakers or white slacks? Where do we draw the line? And where did these age-old rules even come from?
Historically, white attire was restricted to the summer months for two main reasons: comfort and status. In terms of comfort, wearing white during the summer helped people to remain cool. Even though this is still the case, as white is no less reflective than it was 200 years ago, people in the 1800s did not enjoy the luxury of air conditioning. Furthermore, attire in the 1800s was quite formal; it was unacceptable for men and women of class to publicly wear any sort of short clothing, which meant that color was especially important for keeping cool. Additionally, after the Civil War ended in 1865, high society American women proudly began dictating the rules of fashion to create even more stratification in the hierarchy of society. Wearing white indicated that you not only had money, but you also did not have to work, as white could not remain pristine if one was partaking in physical labor. When Labor Day was established as a federal holiday in 1894, the season for white was strictly bookended by Memorial Day and Labor Day. Anyone who wore white outside of this timeframe could easily be distinguished by high society women as classless and likely as having new money from the Industrial Revolution, which was seen as lesser than old money.
But now that we are well past the day when these rules were practical and universally accepted, how should we navigate the territory of blurred lines around Labor Day? The short answer is do what you feel most comfortable doing. However, opinions are mixed. According to MSN News, you should avoid wearing white after Labor Day if you have any doubts about whether the piece is fashionably acceptable. Opposingly, Bustle’s Tyler Atwood writes, “Luxurious cashmere, wool, and thick cotton are winter-ready materials, so wearing them in white will simply add a streamlined element to your ensemble.” He also addresses his more tentative readers with the statement, “When in doubt, cream is a color for all seasons and most skin tones.”
Despite varying opinions, nothing speaks louder than the wearers themselves. Some of the most famous, most fashionable members of our society have no qualms about wearing white, no matter the occasion or season. For example, Gigi Hadid, Alessandra Ambrosio, and Jennifer Lopez boldly wear white jeans throughout the winter.
I was fortunate enough to be able to include the opinions and expertise of Jeff Mahshie, a graduate of the Parsons School of Design, a previous creative director at Halston and Anne Klein, an esteemed costume designer, and a Tony Award Nominee. In an interview with Mahshie, he eloquently stated, “I only wear white after Labor Day… You have to be conscious of the fabric, but I’ve seen chic women wearing white chiffon in the snow.” Mahshie makes a good point. Fabric and texture are much more important qualities to pay attention to than whether or not a piece is white.
The conclusion that I’ve come to is that past rules do not dictate current style even though some more conservative individuals find comfort in following their general guidelines. All in all, white can most definitely be a year-round color. It should be as much of a staple as a good pair of jeans or a classic black sweater. So embrace the white out from from spring to summer to winter to fall!