While no one’s totally sure exactly when or why the fashion rule of wearing white only during the summer became a thing, the most probable reason is that it was due to late 1800s snobbery.
Following the Civil War, mega-rich guys’ wives ruled over high society with an iron fist. But, as more & more people became rich, it became more & more difficult to be able to differentiate between respectable “old money” families & those vulgar “new money” upstarts. So, to determine who & what were & were not acceptable, women in the 1880s that were already part of the “in-crowd” developed a bunch of fashion rules that everyone who was anyone was required to follow. So, even if a lady attended a play or opera wearing a dress worth more than what most Americans at the time would’ve made in a year, but the sleeve length was wrong, other women would know not to pay her any mind.
Another of those silly rules: not wearing white outside the summer months. White was strictly for weddings & resort wear, never fall dinner parties. Of course, September can be super-hot & wearing white makes a lot of sense. But, if you wanted to be accepted by society, you just did not do it. Once Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1894, high society adopted it as the natural end of summer fashions.
Not everyone followed the rule, however. Even some high society ladies chose to blaze their own trail & buck the trend, most notably Coco Chanel, who would wear white all year long. But, while the rule was originally only observed & enforced by a few hundred women, it ultimately trickled down to pretty much everyone else over the years. In the 1950s, women’s magazines were making it clear to middle class America ladies: you are only to pull your white clothing out of storage on Memorial Day before promptly putting it back in the day after Labor Day.
Nowadays, fashion rules are much more relaxed about what colors to wear & when. But still, pretty much every year you’re inevitably going to hear someone insist that white after Labor Day is unacceptable. And that would absolutely be true…if you were a 140+ year old snobby millionaire.
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