It’s Okay to Wear White After Labor Day

Personally, I think what colors you wear when is a matter of taste and fashion rather than etiquette, but some people think it’s actually rude, so here we are.

The traditional period for wearing white was Memorial Day through Labor Day (with some municipalities allowing a brief wearing of white for Easter and then packing it away again until Memorial Day.) The reason is is that Memorial Day through Labor Day marks the effective “summer” period. Back in the Victorian era where many of etiquette and social customs were formalized, rich people would leave their houses in the cities and go to the country homes for the summer months. In town, everyone wore very serious, dark, heavy clothes, but in the country they would wear nice, light, white clothing which was more comfortable during hot weather (and remember, there was no A/C back then!) When they returned to the city after Labor Day, they would put their summer clothing away and return to their more formal city clothes. Also, back then, city streets were full of mud and horse poop and garbage and the air was full of coal smoke and soot and all kinds of things that made wearing white extremely impractical. So it just kind of stuck and became codified into this “rule.” Also, as New York was kind of the center of the fashionable world, rules were made to follow the Northeastern climate where it didn’t really start to get hot until Memorial Day and it cooled down quickly after Labor Day.

Nowadays, it’s totally fine to wear white whenever you like, especially if you live in a climate where a sundress is perfectly comfortable in March. The fashion industry even has a thing called “winter white” which is white you can wear in the wintertime. Now of course, you might simply find it more practical and comfortable to put your more summery whites away in the winter, but nothing is stopping you from wearing white linen pants in January if you want.


Thank Goodness We Don’t Have to Do That Anymore: Distinguish Between Daytime and Evening Attire

The author dressed for Junior Prom- clearly evening wear.

The author dressed for Junior Prom- clearly evening wear.

I am putting this in “thank goodness we don’t have to do that anymore” because really these days, you can wear whatever you want. Wearing “evening” clothing pieces during daytime cycles through trendiness pretty regularly also. However, there are plenty of people who still see certain things as being for nighttime only. I was shopping with my mom a few years ago and she wouldn’t let me buy an otherwise office-appropriate cardigan because it had sparkly buttons.

While we don’t have to follow Emily Post’s rules about what is appropriate to wear in the morning, the afternoon, evening, dinner at home, dinner out, and in the ballroom (and believe me, there are many, many rules), there are some basics that you can remember.

Things that are for evening only:

  • Shiny fabrics: these are your satins, sequins, some silks (more matte silks are fine for day), velvet, lamé, etc.
  • Sparkles: beading, rhinestones, sequins
  • Evening shoes: very high heels, very strappy/sexy, lots of jewels, metallics (though there are many nice daytime appropriate metallics)
  • Major cleavage is generally considered to be mostly for evening
  • And for the guys: tuxedos. Never wear a tuxedo before 6pm (and yes this includes for weddings. A wedding starting at 5 or so is fine, but not 11am, 2pm, etc.)

Even though we don’t REALLY have to follow these rules, I still find myself packing my fancy rhinestone earrings in my bag and swapping my work earrings if I am going to something fancy after work. What is everyone else’s opinion- are day and evening clothes still a distinction we should make or does anything go? Mariah Carey definitely does not care a bit about what is appropriate (but honestly, Mariah Carey is an exception to everything.)