Wearing white after Labor Day is generally considered a fashion faux pas here in the Northeast, for the what-to, when-to, how-to wear crowd, at least according to fashionistas. The dictum has been around for a long time, and many explanations have been offered. Most draw on “rules” made legend by an idealized, bygone social class with leisure time to spare at the end of the 19th century – the kind of people who used to “take the waters” in the Spa City, or summer in Newport.
People traveled away from grimy urban areas during the summer, and the lighter clothes were meant to keep them cooler, as white absorbs heat more slowly than dark colors, white reflected the upbeat mood of the summer sun, and was a social marker, signaling that you could leave daily drudgery behind.
But I’ve heard a clarification recently that makes more sense, both pragmatically and historically: Before heaters were invented, people shoveled coal to heat buildings. As it gets cooler and more is shoveled, the soot would get all over people and stain their clothes, so they changed their wardrobe around Labor Day, when the weather typically starts to change and the danger of getting dirty and dingy escalated. Dust, street dirt and grit demanded darker clothes as camouflage. This practice turned into tradition, and that’s where we got stuck. So, on Tuesday next week, wear exactly what you want.
– Helen Susan Edelman, LiveSmart Project Director, email@example.com
Times Union - Edited and written by Helen Edelman