Senior Abbey Masters organized a group of students to wear white on Sept. 6, the day after Labor Day, to challenge the fashion rule that has been around since the 19th century.
“I’ve always wanted to wear white after Labor Day,” Masters said. “And then I was like, ‘Well, what if I got a bunch of people in on it?’ It was kind of like a funny joke…. It’s been a bucket list thing of mine for a long time.”
Masters’ friends rallied behind her decision and recruited students across campus to join in. One of her friends, senior Abby Foust, got several students from the class she peer guides for to wear white. Foust said Masters’ petition was a way to bring joy to campus.
“Abbey is just so good at celebrating small things and just doing something that’s silly and fun,” Masters said. “It’s just one small way to kind of bring joy to our friend group… and it’s an easy way to spread it to other people, too.”
Both Masters and Foust said they didn’t know the origins of the no-white-after-Labor-Day rule, though their parents mentioned it growing up. Assistant professor of apparel merchandising Rebecca Boaz said there’s debate around the rule’s beginnings, with some saying it’s a class issue and others an issue tied to the weather.
Boaz said when this rule originated, the upper class were the only people who wore white, because they wouldn’t get their clothes dirty from working and because they could travel to warmer places during the fall when everyone else had to dress in darker, warmer fabrics.
“White was kind of a status symbol or a classist symbol, and it kept the working-class people from wearing it,” Boaz said. “Most of the time, you’d just wear white in the summer. However, if you were of a high enough class and you didn’t have to work, you could go on holiday in the fall. And wearing white after Labor Day meant that you were wealthy and that you were going somewhere where it was warmer to vacation.”
Boaz said the rule came back into prominence in the 1950s when a group gathered and decided to bring this fashion rule back.
The other side of this debate believes the rule stems from our tendency to wear white in the summer, since it reflects light, and darker colors in cooler weather, Boaz said. She said Labor Day represents the unofficial end of summer for many people.
Boaz said wearing white after Labor Day is going to become more common. Fashion magazines are all talking about white clothing, and now the decision to wear it has more to do with the weight of the fabric and where people live.
“I don’t think it’s such a hard and fast fashion rule anymore by any means,” Boaz said. “The whole classism thing has gone away, so it doesn’t have anything to do with that anymore. I think it’s whatever you’re comfortable doing. It shouldn’t be something that you get judged because of.”
With this younger generation, traditional fashion rules like the Labor Day rule are going away, Foust said.
“I think a lot of fashion rules like that traditionally in the south are kind of out the window,” Foust said. “I think our generation is pretty good about challenging those traditional fashion roles.”
Masters encouraged students who may be apprehensive about wearing white after Labor Day to go for it.
“I just feel like [wear] whatever you feel most confident in, whatever makes you feel put together and like you are ready to crush the day,” Masters said. “For me, I just have a lot of white clothes, and I like them, so I figured I might as well just keep wearing them.”