According to all the rules of ages past, my opportunity to wear white in any approved fashion ends on Monday. My mother, my aunts, my grandmothers and most women of their ages conditioned those young girls of my generation that it was strictly forbidden. Why? Why?
If, as some sources I’ve read assert, that is because white is reflective and makes you cooler, then not wearing white makes sense — if you live anywhere where the temperatures drop soon after Labor Day.
If, on the other hand, you live (as I do) on the Gulf Coast, where “cold snaps” might appear in October but last only a day or two, and where summer heat drops some and diminishes a bit yet lingers into what the rest of the world thinks of as “fall” and even “winter,” then this dictum makes absolutely no sense.
I don’t even put up shorts and flip-flops until December, and even then I’m reluctant to do so. Many Christmases in the Ware house have been spent with the air conditioner on.
Since it’s warmish to hot so long down here on the coast, I think white clothes reflecting heat would make a lot more sense if worn after Labor Day.
A second theory, related to the first, is that white clothes tended to be made of thinner, lighter material and thus wouldn’t be suitable for cooler weather. Again, I respond as I did for theory #1. I want thinner, lighter material as long as the temperatures are in the 80s and 90s.
Wealthy people, I read, broke this tradition by wearing “winter white” — perhaps in flannels or heavier fabrics, but they broke it nonetheless. “Winter white” became fashionable.
Other rules have disappeared. Wearing white gloves? Long gone. Thank goodness. I hated those things. Hot, not always comfortable, and quickly dirtied (I often felt like Pigpen in the Peanuts cartoon strip, though a girl version). Polite society no longer requires these for “dressing up.” I had them, though, in quantities. Short gloves for church and other dressy occasions. Longer ones, mid-length. And elbow length, for proms and dances where long dresses were required.
Once more I suspect the origins of those white gloves was related to class or income. Ladies, after all, didn’t get their hands dirty. White gloves implied leisure time and, because they weren’t easy to keep clean, announced to the world that you didn’t have to worry about that. You either had money to buy more or servants to clean them. Or, if you had aspirations, you wanted to show that too. Or, like me, you were just a kid who had to follow the clothing regulations that your female elders dictated. It just was the rule, followed to be right.
Even my Grandmother Ware, a farm wife who worked a garden nearly an acre, wore gloves and long sleeves and a bonnet. Why? Ladies didn’t have torn-up hands, or tan.
Gloves for work, gloves for cold weather? Of course I have those. Those make sense.
But no more white gloves.
A Time article I read notes that wealth and class have always “led” fashion — dictated it, really. And the trends were set and followed by those of the leisure class, or those who wanted to be perceived as belonging. Others (i.e., the middle class) followed suit, often not recognizing the role of wealth and class in setting the fashions.
Well, phooey. It’s a democratic world, supposedly egalitarian. As a retired laborer from the bright-color middle class, I hereby pronounce that white should be an approved color for everyone, in any season, any material weight. Class dismissed.
What other fashion rules that I learned still linger, waiting for my close attention? Just think about it. There must be lots of them waiting for me to break if I think about it.
In the meantime, I think that on Tuesday I’ll put on my white cotton capris and wear my white leather flip-flops.
Of course, I just saw a Vogue article that assures me it’s okay to wear white after Labor Day now. Does that mean I am still following the dictates of wealth or class?