Fashion advice has a lot to say about color, but perhaps the most famous of these wardrobe suggestions is to not wear white after labor day. What could possibly be the meaning behind this advice? You are in far more danger of staining those white clothes with ketchup from a hotdog in the depths of summer than in fall. Sweat stains are far more likely to occur on a July bike ride than an October hike. The truth is this fashion faux pas has little to do with practicality and everything to do with preserving a dying way of life.
In the antebellum era the old aristocracy of the United States was facing a threat. The economic boom following the end of the Civil War was producing millionaires at an alarming rate. This influx of “new money” was challenging the long held, near royal, traditions of the “old money” families that had lorded over the high social scene since the colonial era. In order to identify oneself as being from more respectable “old money” and to separate themselves from the interlopers the women of high society developed a myriad of fashion rules that amounted to a secret language. These rules covered everything from sleeve lengths to button styles and served to display who was in the know and who was not. Not wearing white after labor day was one of these arbitrary rules.
Labor day became a federal holiday in 1894, largely due to pressure from organized labor groups. It is somewhat ironic that this fashion rule revolves around a holiday for workers who in a year probably did not make as much as what a single white dress for the opera would cost. Over time these strict fashion rules have fallen by the wayside. However, Labor Day still serves as an unofficial end to the summer fashion season.