Labor Day is this Monday, and my friends have already seen my alert. No white shoes after Sept. 7.
My tongue-in-cheek Facebook post underscores a rule learned back when women wore hats and gloves to church. Clothes have seasons and you should know what time it is.
My mother taught me this Old School rule. White footwear should be worn from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Fudging at Easter was pushing it because where I grew up in Illinois, spring weather was iffy. How ridiculous we looked wearing straw hats and white patent leather with snow flurries in the air! It happened on occasion.
My mother had other items on the summer-only list: straw accessories, white handbags, seersucker, linen, eyelet lace, open-toed shoes and spectator shoes—those two-toned saddle shoes for adults with white and navy or white and brown leather. And anything resembling resort wear—seashell jewelry, white costume jewelry, canvas shoes and handbags, brightly printed cotton skirts and so on.
And so white shoes, straw hats and seersucker suits were subtle announcement that summer was in session. Swimming pools were open, it was sensible to serve lemonade on the porch or go on a picnic. The white-shoe summer was part of a rhythm that we have shunted aside in favor of seasonless blue jeans and t-shirts. We’ve become less churchy, less formal and less well-dressed.
I admit I’m not a fan of white shoes. First of all, they’re difficult to keep clean. Secondly they make your feet appear gargantuan, and what woman wants large feet?
Recently a friend shared an article about why people don’t wear white after Labor Day. The author stated her reasons, including the history of white being a cooler color to wear in hot, sticky weather. She pointed out how white was reserved for weddings and resort wear by wealthy Victorians who made the rules to be snobby.
So what did I think, the friend taunted.
My reply was simple: The reason people don’t wear white after Labor Day is because it’s wrong.
Of course there are year-round exceptions: nurses, sailors, brides, athletes, some female graduates, debutantes, pages at formal functions and selected nuns and clergy.
Obeying this fashion rules like other rules, can be liberating, even invigorating. Life is simpler with boundaries. Rules eliminate ambiguity and guesswork. Follow them and you don’t have to wonder what to wear when. Celebrate the rule when you switch out your closet. Out with the old season, in with the new. Living in a temperate climate such as ours is much less boring than eternal summers in Hawaii or South Florida, for example.
Stowing warm-weather clothes after the first Monday in September is a sign of fall. Glorious fall! We should embrace it and its russets and reds and burgundies and golds and yellows, forest greens, purples. There’s no way that white shoes, much less sandals, will fly in such company.
And so, dear readers, I urge you to listen to the voice in your head. It’s your mother with sensible advice. When it comes to wearing white after Labor Day, just say no.