May is the official start of warm weather, back yard barbecues, flips flops and shorts. It is also the official nod to the season of wearing white.
Where did this fable of “only wear white between Memorial Day and Labor Day” come from? The answer is as varied as the opinions on the topic.
Should you wear white a second before Memorial Day? For the answer, I searched fashion history and went to the Fashion Institute of Technology (or FIT). Dr. Valerie Steele, Director and Chief Curator of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (MFIT), is quoted all over the web saying, “in the late 19th century and the 1950s, more people were entering the middle classes. These nouveau-riche folks were often unaware of the standards of high society, so they were given specific codified rules to follow in order to fit in.” One of these rules was the wearing white between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Most of the folk-lore about wearing white seems to be rooted in the South (in other words, the part of the United States that is below the Mason Dixon Line).
For GRITS (Girls Raised In The South), wearing white before Easter or after Labor Day is simply a clear sign of bad manners and poor class. Still today, many Southern ladies would never be seen wearing white in the winter or fall months, that is unless they were getting married.
All of the nostalgia seems to be, well, rather old-fashioned. Today, white (stark chalk white) is found in high fashion collections all year round. This begs the question, does the old fashion rule of no white before Memorial Day still hold true?
The quick answer, no. However, if you choose to wear white before Memorial Day (especially for those of us who are above the Mason Dixon Line – or in northern Indiana), it is most important to remember these key rules about wearing white:
Don’t Go Overboard
Wearing white head to toe really should be reserved for the heat of the summer on the hottest days. If you are going to wear white in the beginning of spring, when the temperature outside is still chilly, pair it with another one of the season’s hot colors like magenta or turquoise.
Fancy the Fabric
Fabric choices are the most important when pulling together a season-friendly (and stylish) outfit. You would never think of wearing a white parka in July; likewise, don’t wear your white linen trousers in the fall or winter. Make sure that the fabric you are wearing is appropriate for the time of year and the temperature.
Even if the calendar says June 3rd, but it happens to be snowing where you are, it is not OK to wear white linen pants and a white silk cami. The style of clothing needs to be in-sync with the season. Yes, people will laugh at you if you wear your white Bermuda shorts in Michiana in January…even if it is unseasonably warm.
To know what is OK to wear from season to season, just remember that color isn’t as important as the style and fabric!