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The history of this Labor Day fashion rule explained

While Labor Day might be a federal holiday to celebrate American employees, it also marks an important date in the sartorial calendar.

As the age old adage goes, Labor Day marks the last day in the calendar year that fashionistas should don white.

But where does the rule come from, and can you really not wear white after Labor Day?

Why Can’t You Wear White After Labor Day?

Truthfully, there is nothing to stop you wearing whatever you want, whenever you want but there are a couple of theories as to wear the sartorial rule comes from.

The first is to do with practicality.

As Labor Day is celebrated on the first Monday of September, it marked the end of the traditional summer and beginning of autumn.

In the early to mid-20th Century, with no air-conditioning, wearing white was an easy way to keep cool, swapping these lighter clothes for fabrics with darker hues as the temperature began to chill.

Three guests, two wearing white after Labor Day, attend Tibi’s New York Fashion Week show on September 8, 2019.
Christian Vierig/Getty Images

“All the magazines and tastemakers were centered in big cities, usually in northern climates that had seasons,” author of American Fashion, Charlie Scheips told Time.

These fashion editors may not have found white as practical during autumnal weather when their clothes could easily get muddy in the rain.

The “no white” rule is also thought to have punctuated the seasonal wardrobes of middle class vacationers who would leave the humid climes of big cities for the summer.

Swapping to whites, including linen suits, was considered vacation attire for tourists.

Returning back to the city in darker hues could have been seen as a mark of “re-entry” as Valerie Steele, director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, told the magazine.

“You’re back in the city, back at school, back doing whatever you’re doing in the fall—and so you have a new wardrobe,” she said.

Steele also believes there may have been classism at play in reinforcing the rule in the 1950s helping to separate old money elites from the nouveau riche as social mobility led to an increase in the middle class population, though not all historians agree on this.

“It [was] insiders trying to keep other people out and outsiders trying to climb in by proving they know the rules,” Steele said.

Can I Wear White After Labor Day?

There is no real reason in 2021 for the rule to be observed, regardless of its history.

Plenty of celebrities, including those that are frequently praised for their personal style, have been spotted wearing white after Labor Day.

Kourtney Kardashian and Addison Rae
Kourtney Kardashian wears a white satin shirt dress after Labor Day to go out with Addison Rae in New York, October 2020
Gotham/Getty Images

In October 2020, Kourtney Kardashian was photographed in a white satin shirt dress while heading out with friend and TikTok star Addison Rae.

While filming Younger in New York last November, Hilary Duff was spotted wearing a white ensemble underneath a chunky sage green cardigan.

Hilary Duff wears a white dress
Olivia Wilde wears a white dress

Actress Olivia Wilde wore white on the red carpet in the same month, and singer Ella Mai wore a playful white feathered dress to perform at Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.

Plenty of other fashionistas have also been spotted wearing white to attend fashion shows during New York Fashion Week in September, with many shows taking place after Labor Day.

Ella Mai performs in a white dress
Singer Ella Mai performs at Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve in a white feathered dress.
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

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