LABOR DAY AND THE RULE ABOUT WEARING WHITE

By September 1, 2017Blog

Special Note: Our offices will close at 3:00 PM Pacific on Friday, September 1st for Labor Day weekend. We will reopen Tuesday, August 5th.

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a holiday dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national celebration of the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. The holiday is typically traced back to an 1882 parade in New York City. Union leaders had called for what they had labelled as a “monster labor festival,” according to Department of Labor historians. Canada’s “Labour Day” (also on the first Monday in September) gets additional credit for the origination of the idea for a general labor festival in North America.

It’s also traditionally the last day you can wear white until the next spring. But why?

The reason behind the custom appears to be twofold. It was about fashion and culture as well as common sense.

To start, cultures wear white as a tool against the sun and heat. White reflects light and is therefore cooler to wear in hot weather. It makes perfect sense to wear white during the hotter summer months. This characteristic of white allowed it to work its way into the fabric of society.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, the growing middle class and wealthy began to in greater numbers take holidays by leaving their industrial jobs and city life to visit beaches or other summer destinations. The original use of white for heat mitigation started to become a fashion “rule.” When an affluent New York family headed to the shore for the summer season they took lots of white. The color became a symbol of upwardly mobile people who had time for such leisure activities. Plus, cities are not known for being clean and wearing white in the city was (still can be) unpractical.

The color white had for generations only been worn by the wealthy for that very reason. Queen Victoria shocked the world by wearing what is thought to be one of the first white wedding gowns in western civilization. At that time, it was less a symbol of her purity and more a symbol of her incredible wealth.

When our new summer vacationing population returned to their cities and factories they left their white at the beaches or summer cabins. They returned to their darker fashions which are better at hiding dirt and wear.

Our society already had a “when to wear white” rule based on common sense. Then capitalism got involved. The growing influence of the fashion industry of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, mainly out of New York, began to write annual columns in their fashion magazines about when it was appropriate to wear white. Somewhere in those millions of column inches a rule was created about not wearing white after Labor Day – our culture’s last unofficial day of summer.

White remained a color for the wealthy for generations and soon morphed into a color symbolizing leisure. As the price of clothing dropped in the late twentieth century, the rules surrounding wearing it also began to drop. Now the “no white after Labor Day” rule is spoken about more than it is followed.

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