As Memorial Day approaches, people are pulling white ensembles out of their closets and selecting white garments from the rack once again. This bright, casual look is perfect for the summer months, when sunny days stretch into balmy evenings and people spend more time outside enjoying picnics and barbeques.
But when did this fashion rule of wearing no white before Memorial Day or after Labor Day begin? According to The Emily Post Institute, this practice dates back to early 20th century America, when well-heeled society types left the city for seaside cottages or mountain cabins to escape the heat. On such occasions, “city clothes were left behind in exchange for lighter, whiter, summer outfits.” Come Labor Day, when they returned to their urban residences, they put those white garments away and donned their darker formal wear once more.
These days, this fashion law is approached in a more flexible manner. Even the Duchess of Windsor, who pays close attention to her look and the prevailing fashion trends, was recently spotted wearing a white dress before the official season began. Fashion rules are sometimes meant to be broken, and they can be fascinating moments when people flash a bit of their own originality.
Of course, the color white still carries meaning that fashion followers can either acknowledge or interpret in a fresh way. In the summertime, most brides will don white wedding dresses to take their vows before family and friends (though some do choose to switch it up and wear other colors or other garments). On those occasions, it’s understood that no one else will be wearing white so as not to compete with the bride on her special day.
White is also having a moment as a symbol of protest and social commentary, as women and allies publicly wear white garments as a visual reference to the women’s suffrage movement. This too dates back to the early 20th century, when female Londoners wore white garments to signify purity in their struggle to obtain the right to vote.
It’s not all about social consciousness or following the rules, however. White also enjoys continued popularity among fashion lovers as part of minimalist, monochrome ensembles. These looks are trendy with urban professionals, who find them versatile for every occasion—whether at the office or going out at night. When paired with black, white can look classy and chic.
The color white continues to have a special role and significance in fashion, though its meaning may change throughout the years as creative dressers continually re-interpret its meaning for modern sensibilities. As the summer approaches, you can expect to see a lot of people wearing this color and making it their own once again.