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PHRAGMENTS FROM PHYLLIS: Do you wear white after Labor Day?

Phyllis Britt

Phyllis Britt

Wearing white after Labor Day is a subject I don’t even have to think about. It was well-ingrained very early that wearing white after the first Monday in September was absolutely verboten. No one ever asked why. We all just knew it was a rule.

First of all, I grew up in a Navy town, and even the guys in the Navy switched from summer whites to their winter attire sometime around then.

And it was just the way it was.

You could look at all the ads for women’s clothing in the fall issues of magazines and be reassured that white was now a no-no until spring. In fact, I think our rule was no earlier than Easter, but definitely not before the first day of spring, though I don’t ever remember having a pair of white shoes even for Easter – patent leather (black, of course) was the order of the day.

Labor Day was the definite demarcation for the end of summer, too. My town was a coastal town, so all the tourists departed after that, taking their school-age children with them because Tuesday was the traditional start of school.

And the first day of school was a sign for me, as well. In those days one of the small joys of the start of school was a new outfit for the first day. And the outfit was definitely not white. In fact, even though I grew up in Virginia, my first-day-of-school was likewise a harbinger of fall – no more sleeveless shirts, no more shorts (of course, shorts weren’t allowed at school anyway), no more sun dresses, no more sandals and decidedly no more white. Clothing stores had the message as well. What you found in stores right before school started were sweaters, wool skirts, knee-socks and school coats. Never mind it was going to be 80 degrees that first day, you wore the wool anyway.

But where did this taboo against white after Labor Day start?

According to a recent article from msn.com, part of the deal with no white after Labor Day was air conditioning – or the lack thereof. The article suggests without AC in every household wearing white made it easier to stay cool. Think about it, what would you be wearing if you didn’t have air conditioning? White clothes traditionally have been natural fibers like linen or cotton in breezy weights. I remember clearly pretty little sundresses in white pique.

Then, in those days nearly a century ago now, fashions were largely dictated by designers who were in city centers, mostly in the North – think New York, Chicago and such.

Also, as September came, so did rains in those cities. And rain brought mud, and mud and white clothes don’t mix.

Again, according to msn.com lots of middle class vacationers kept to the no-white rule to emulate the more glamorous fashion plates, to demonstrate the end of summer and to prove they knew the “rules.” Linen was right for vacations but not for real life.

Another recent article in “Newsweek” said the rule about white was one of several that the so-called elite of the mid-20th century used to show they were the “real” rich, not “nouveau riche” – things like the right sleeve length for the right occasion or the no-white-except-in-summer rule. And for them Labor Day meant time to put away summer, no matter what the temperature said.

Silly, you say. We definitely have allowed so many of those type rules to go by the wayside. Anyone who knows me well is aware I almost always wear a dress to church. Yes, today for most of you, that’s unnecessary. But I was raised that way, and I can’t shake it. I don’t frown on anyone who prefers pants or shorts or jeans for church attire, but it’s not for me. Also, all the years I sat in school board meetings as a reporter, I was appalled at the way people dressed. There would be a kid trying to get back into school after being expelled, sitting beside his dad, who was wearing jeans and a T-shirt advertising his favorite beer. I always thought if I were in that situation, I’d be in clothes that showed respect to those I was trying to impress. Also, when I graduated from high school, even though my graduation was in the football stadium in the heat, everyone in the bleachers (family, friends, etc.) was wearing Sunday-best outfits, often with women wearing a hat. Today, again it is far more common to see parents at graduation in shorts or jeans.

Yet, the no-white-after-Labor-Day rule persists in some arenas. In 1994 there was a movie entitled Serial Mom. The plot was about a woman who was fiercely devoted to and protective of her family. The movie shows her in a series of situations in which her “protective” actions seem a bit extreme, including, for example, killing a girlfriend she thought had wronged her son.

Even at her trial, she sees one of the jurors wearing white high heels – after Labor Day. She follows the offending juror to the bathroom where Serial Mom punishes the woman by pummeling her to death with her own white pump.

Today, a lot of people totally ignore the “rule.” I’ll admit even for me the rule is only hard and fast with regard to shoes. I wear white shirts, I wear winter white slacks, I even wear white shorts occasionally after Labor Day.

But I put my foot down when it comes to white shoes. After all, I’ve seen Serial Mom. I’m not taking any chances.

Update: Last Sunday Payton and Tom planted their fall garden as planned. Tom arose Thursday to find almost every plant eaten to a nub. As a result, our mission to thwart the rabbits has renewed. We’re looking at an animated owl (his head moves back and forth) as a scarecrow. But meanwhile, we bought some deer and rabbit deterrent (mainly capsaicin), which shouldn’t kill them, but just make the plants taste bad to them – hopefully not to us. We’ll see.

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