Can I wear white after Memorial Day?

This Monday is Labor Day in the United States – a holiday linked to workers’ rights and wearing white.

That may sound strange, but it is true. Many Americans put away their white clothes on Labor Day and do not wear them again until the following May, after Memorial Day.

One reason for the clothing custom relates to the season. In the United States, the months between June and September are summer. The weather is usually hot, including in Northeast cities like Boston, Massachusetts and New York, New York. Many people there historically wore light-colored clothing in the summertime to keep cool.

Judith Martin is an expert on manners – in other words, on how to behave politely. She spoke to Time Magazine about the history of wearing white in the summer. She said Americans in the 1800s and early 1900s wore formal clothes all year long. Wearing white clothes in the summertime may have felt more comfortable because “white is of a lighter weight,” Martin said.

Then, in about the 1930s, wearing white clothes in the summertime became fashionable, too. That is because some wealthy Americans in Northeast cities went on vacation for weeks or months in the summer. They stayed in costly hotels or summerhouses. The white clothes they wore there became linked to ease, beauty and money. But at the end of summer, around Labor Day, they put those white clothes away and returned to their lives in the city – as well as to their darker, heavier clothes.

In time, not wearing white after Labor Day became a bit of a fashion rule. Following it showed that you were wealthy -- or at least that you knew how to act like you were.

Today’s fashion magazines, however, advise readers to ignore the rule. They point to Coco Chanel, Kim Kardashian and Michelle Obama, who have appeared in white in all seasons.

But you may want to be careful about wearing white to an American-style Labor Day barbecue. The trouble is not fashion – it is ketchup. If it spills, the popular red tomato sauce can ruin a nice set of clothes.

I’m Kelly Jean Kelly.

Kelly Jean Kelly wrote this story for Learning English with reports from Reuters and Time. Ashley Thompson was the editor.


Words in This Story

comfortable - adj. not having any physically unpleasant feelings : experiencing physical comfort

fashion - n. a popular way of dressing during a particular time or among a particular group of people

If there’s one fashion question I get asked often, it’s “Can I wear white before Memorial Day?”.

Can I wear white after Memorial Day?

It’s going to be 100 degrees here in Arizona and we still have a few weeks left until Memorial Day. So our summer outfits are definitely out in full force.

See, most of the fashion “rules” are according to the season, and rightfully so. After all, how ridiculous would you look trekking through the snow in a pair of white pants? They’d be muddied up, ruined and ready for the trash.

Can I wear white after Memorial Day?

But here in Arizona, our seasons are pretty simple: hot, not as hot, and then cool (which lasts about 5 minutes).

If East Coasters were sweating like us this time of the year, they’d be sporting white pants, too. The calendar may not say it’s “officially” summer until mid-June, but our summer starts right about now.

Why is Wearing White After Labor Day Bad?

There are a number of theories floating around the web on why and how the whole “no white after Memorial Day” thing started. Another to consider is, it’s just practical.

Can I wear white after Memorial Day?

White reflects light, making this perfect for warmer weather days. This could easily be another reason white was traditionally reserved as an appropriate color to wear only AFTER Memorial Day.

“Not only was there no air-conditioning, but people did not go around in T shirts and halter tops. They wore what we would now consider fairly formal clothes,” said Judith Martin, Miss Manners etiquette columnist Miss Manners to Time Magazine.

If you’re really a fashion history buff, check out this article from Time which breaks down some of the reasons this fashion rule may or may not have come into fashion. (See what I did there? Yes, PUN INTENDED!)

Can I Wear White Before Memorial Day?

If it’s hot enough for you to ask the question, then yes.

And just to be confusing, I’d also say you can wear white year-round. It just depends HOW you wear it and what you style it with.

Can I wear white after Memorial Day?

You wouldn’t, for example, throw on beachy, white linen pants like these in the middle of November. While they’re technically white pants, these are obviously better for an occasion like a summer pool party, cruise or the beach.

How to Wear White Before Memorial Day

If it isn’t as warm in your neck of the woods, there are still some beautiful ways you can wear white in the spring, before Memorial Day.

Can I wear white after Memorial Day?

The first is with a little white dress. This is one fashion “trend” that never goes out of style!

A beautiful white eyelet dress is perfect for spring and looks great for Easter, Mother’s Day or a nice brunch with friends.

Plus, white dresses look gorgeous in the summer, too!

RELATED: The Best White Dresses From Amazon

Can I wear white after Memorial Day?
Credit: Advice from a twentysomething

If it’s a bit chilly in your area, try topping a casual white dress with a denim jacket. A little leather jacket looks cute too and gives a little edge to your look.

Can I wear white after Memorial Day?

A cute white skirt is another way to try white before Memorial Day. It’s suitable for spring and will take you right into hot summer months.

When Can You Wear White Jeans and Pants?

I love a good pair of white jeans. They’re crisp, clean and beautiful for spring and summer!

Can I wear white after Memorial Day?

RELATED: The Best White Jeans That Aren’t See-Through

Now, do I wait until Memorial Day? Absolutely not. In fact, I recently wore white jeans in this post about how to transition to spring fashion.

Can I wear white after Memorial Day?

Here are a few guidelines for wearing white pants or jeans before Memorial Day:

  • If it isn’t hot in your neck of the woods, hold off on the all-white outfit
  • Bring in a cold-weather piece to your outfit like a leather jacket or sneakers
  • Do consider layering with other neutrals like grey and taupe
  • White against a pop of color is always pretty! This works well anytime of year.
  • If it’s still winter, consider winter white instead. These colors tend to be a bit more creamy-colored.

Remember: Fashion Rules Are Meant to Be Broken

Fashion should be fun, rules are meant to be broken! So if you want to wear white before Memorial Day, go for it.

Can I wear white after Memorial Day?

If it’s winter, you can easily winterize your white outfit by layering, incorporating fall colors or choosing winter whites.

In the spring and summer, have fun with it! You can definitely wear white pants and dresses if it’s warm out. And, even if it isn’t.

What do you think? Do you wear white before Memorial Day or do you only do so in the summer?

Why don't you wear white after Memorial Day?

According to multiple reports, it all started in the 1930's with the rich wearing only white in the summer. Light clothing gave the look of leisure, while dark clothing was mostly for working people. Some say the rule started because of the vacationing schedule of the elite in the early 1900's.

Can you wear white shoes after Memorial Day?

No rule enrages Miss Manners' Gentle Readers as much as the ban against wearing white shoes (unless you are a baby, a bride, or playing tennis) between Memorial Day (not Easter) and Labor Day.

Is no white before Memorial Day still a thing?

Remember: Fashion Rules Are Meant to Be Broken So if you want to wear white before Memorial Day, go for it. If it's winter, you can easily winterize your white outfit by layering, incorporating fall colors or choosing winter whites. In the spring and summer, have fun with it!

What day don't you wear white after?

According to the Farmer's Almanac, the concept of not wearing white after Labor Day started in the 19th century as a way for the upper class to separate themselves from the working class.