After Labor Day

It may have been due to snobbery in the late 1800s and early 1900s that a long tradition of not wearing anything white after Labor Day was born. In the late 19th century, rich, high-society women who came from wealth found themselves rubbing elbows with the so-called “new rich.” It was difficult to tell the difference between respectable old money families and those who only had vulgar new money.

Around 1880, in order to distinguish old-money families from the newfound millionaires, they used fashion rules that only those who were “in” would know about. These rules included things like wearing the correct sleeve length for certain events. If a woman showed up at the opera in a dress that cost more than most Americans made in a year, but it had the wrong acceptable sleeve length, other women would know not to give her the time of day.

Since many of the wealthy old families went during the summer months to their country estates would only wearing white in the summertime. Wearing white clothes in the summertime may have felt more comfortable because “white is of a lighter weight.

Eventually, when Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1894, the holiday became a natural endpoint for summer and the wearing of white. However, some locations like south Florida before air-conditioning and in its wilderness days of 1890s to 1930, ladies had to wear white year-round to remain cool.

Of course, summer heat can stretch well into September, but if you were “in,” you’d know that Labor Day meant putting away cool, white clothing, regardless of how miserable it would be to wear fall-appropriate clothes in late summer.

The tradition was broken by ladies (suffragettes) protesting to get women the right to vote in the 1910s. They would wear white dresses in their parades during any season so everyone would recognize what they stood for and separate them from those wearing dark colors.

So over the decades of the 20th century the wearing of white in the summer only remained a general rule for all classes. By the 1950s, women’s magazines made it clear to middle-class America: White clothing was dug out on Memorial Day and went back into storage after Labor Day. Check family photos of years ago and see if there is a date and that each lady followed the norm.

With the end of the 20th century and into the 21st century the old saying of ‘do not wear white after Labor Day’ has gone out of style.

Photos: Lady wearing white in the summer; Lady wearing dark clothing after Labor Day; Suffragettes wearing white in parade and end of summer.

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Fashion Dates Photos

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What Items Did Your Ancestors Have?

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