Flouting Fashion Norms: How To Wear White After Labor Day

Fashion is a realm in which we expect boundaries to be pushed. And yet, it’s also a place where certain outdated “rules” persist. 

One such supposed truism? “You can’t wear white after Labor Day.”

At the turn of the previous century, wearing white during the summer months was a practical concern. Modest, multi-layered outfits were de rigueur. Donning lightweight fabrics in bright, sun-reflecting hues was a means of staying cool.

Wealthy urbanites who decamped to summer residences in Newport or the Hamptons enjoyed games of croquet and evening soirées in crisp white clothing.

If you’ve ever walked the sprawling grounds of a Gilded Age mansion, like The Breakers in Newport, RI, you can envision what it must have been like to visit in the 1800s. Photo by Dennis Heller.

However, they faced a very different reality when they returned to the city in autumn. Horse-drawn carriages populated the dirty cobblestone streets, and the first electric washing machine wouldn’t be invented until 1908. Wearing darker clothes that could mask stains was a necessity.

Fortunately, in the intervening years, we’ve moved from carriages to Teslas and from lantern-lit parlors to central air. Given all that, don’t you think it’s time we disposed of this outdated fashion “rule”?

Here are our favorite tips for wearing white with style all year round.

Expand Your Definition of the Hue

Anyone who’s looked at paint swatches knows that white is more than a single color. While the white hues we often see in summer outfits are the brightest iterations of the color, there are hundreds of other shades and hues with every kind of undertone.

Selecting a different white to wear in other seasons can help create an ensemble that looks fresh rather than out of place.

As the leaves start to change, opt for a white with a hint of warmth. An ecru with autumnal undertones – like sepia or burnt orange – feels right at home beside your caramel booties or slate-gray moto jacket.

In the winter, look for cool undertones of blue or green that evoke the moonlight on the freshly fallen snow. These whites may also border on neutral shades like gray, putty, or taupe.

In the spring, search for whites with brighter undertones. Look to the green tree buds and explosion of yellow forsythia in your backyard to guide you. These zingy undertones offer the perfect transition to the bright whites of summer and warmer days ahead.

Consider Your Fabric Choice

Finding the right white pieces for the cooler months requires an additional consideration beyond hue – your fabric choice also matters.

Summer white outfits typically come in breezy linens, gossamer silks, and crisp eyelets. These fabrics are at home in a bright, balmy setting but can easily look out of place in another season.

Even something like a strappy sandal can transition into fall when it’s in a cream matte leather.

If you wish to wear white beyond Labor Day, finding pieces in suitable fabrics can make all the difference. 

Suedes, tweeds, knits, and corduroys are all cool-weather fabrics. The finish of a piece also matters. White patent leather, for example, screams Miami in July, whereas matte leather works in all climes and seasons.

White pieces with shimmer or sparkle typically read as one of three things: summer, holiday season, or wedding. An iridescent cream silk dress looks as fabulous at a New Year’s Eve bash as a summertime garden party, but it might feel out of place on a regular Wednesday in November – unless, of course, you pair it with the right layering pieces.

Embrace a Layered Look

Layering adds depth and dimension to your ensemble regardless of its palette. When playing with white pieces after Labor Day, weaving them in among other elements gives the white context. It signals that your white tee was an intentional choice rather than a laundry day necessity.

To make your white piece feel purposeful, layer it with other elements more traditionally associated with the season at hand.

To return to the iridescent cream silk dress, if you pair it with an oversized knit in a complementary neutral, then accessorize with a large leather tote and wooden-heeled clogs, you’ve recontextualized the dress for the cooler weather.

There are no rules about where the white should fall in your layering. A white tank or button-down can serve as a solid foundation for the rest of your outfit. But a white cardigan or blazer paired with darker base layers can work just as well.

Opt for Winter-White Outerwear

When it comes to white accessories, things can be a bit trickier. Certain pieces will always feel out of place in cooler months. Pulling off white satin heels or a white patent clutch on a cold March night is difficult. 

However, white outerwear is a chic way to embrace the color when the thermostat drops.

A long cream coat in wool or cashmere is the ultimate winter accessory that can accompany you on your morning commute to the office or keep you warm on the way to your friend’s holiday party.

If you are not ready to embrace such an all-encompassing white winter look, consider incorporating a pop of white into your cold-weather accessories with a white mitten and hat set or scarf and earmuffs.

Perhaps the most effective way to pull off any look that bucks fashion convention is to wear it confidently. If you layer in some panache with your off-season whites, you’ll look chic in any weather.