A Perspective on White after Labor Day..
Wearing white is a much easier and tradition bound subject to deal with as it pertains to menswear than womanswear. First of all, it’s the kind of unwritten sartorial convention that held sway when fashion was handed down from above to below. It was the wealthy who basically had clothes made especially for summer to even consider whether to bring them out or not. Yes, in old-world, high-brow circles, bringing out your white bucks, seersucker suits, colorful bow ties, correspondent footwear (two-tone shoes in brown and white or black and white, etc), straw boaters, and the light colored cream or white suit or sport jacket was marked by the arrival of Memorial Day. Their return to storage occurred at the close of the summer as demarcated by the arrival of Labor Day. In fact, the sporting of such specialized raiment would be a dead give-away as to one’s social order and bank account. The very wealthy were the first to adopt the cheap, worker’s fabric of seersucker for their summer wardrobes; later on the Preps made it a staple – but that’s a whole other histoire entirely.
There is a certain logic to this custom as these dates mark the both the beginning and end of a time of the year when heat ruled the day and likewise, the donning of somber colored clothes, much like its wearer, generally went on vacation. People with suntans wear bright colors more flatteringly. Thinking about returning to town in September and what would be appropriate to wear there, white as a major item of covering, would have little logic or appropriateness in such a context. Other than in a Southern city or at a country club, sporting white after Labor Day would likely render most men the exception - a circumstance most men would choose to avoid at all costs.
The other guideline impacting the choice and timing of white for menswear was always formal evening dress for summer. This was the one time when a white dinner jacket became an option if bookended between these two dates. Show up in white tuxedo jacket in May or September up North and you’d stand out like sailboat in a dark sea of midnight blue or black dinner clothing. Yes, in Palm Beach or other dress up resorts, white before or after these dates was a matter of discretion, but it always came with an element of risk as being looked upon as parvenu or trying to hard.
Male dress has always been driven by different criteria than women’s. If men show up at a cocktail party in a blazer and grey pants and find others attired similarly, a man can relax. If a woman shows up and another woman is wearing the same dress, it’s never a pretty site.
In short, there are many arguments relative to male decorum and custom that support the continuing application or respect for this time-honored rule, most of them revolve around a modicum of good judgment and practicality. This is not to say that someone cannot dream up an outfit in white and wear it out in to some Gotham soiree during the month of October and garner some attention from the hoi polloi. However, why pick on white, if you have some sense of personal style, choose something that touches all bases of taste and appropriateness, unless the exercise is to stand out or look different. And if that’s the objective, I can think of a few more impactful colors than white to deliver such an ultimatum.
As for women, the subject is as wide as it long. White to the Oscars or other gala events transcends the very subject. A woman in white flannels (cream might be better) and a fur coat is certainly chic in anyone’s Winter. I would prefer to frame the subject as a matter of taste, high or low. Do you know how to inject white into an outfit (at any time of the year) and does it show you to your best advantage. If you have a strong sense of self and thus personal style, wearing an element of white in one’s wardrobe post Labor Day is not likely to become a black and white issue.
"Like golf or tennis if you don’t start out with the right fundamentals on which to build you can play those games for as long as you want but you will never maximize your potential. Learning how to dress well is much easier for the most part than most people would have you believe."
— From GQ UK, March 2011. Article by Nick Foulkes.
"“People want things with integrity,” he explains, and in response to that, he is opening a custom-tailor shop adjacent to his offices. Calling it “an experiment in taste,” the designer hopes to find those willing to embrace the haberdashery spirit."
— The beginnings; 29 years ago. Excerpt from an interview with Alan in W Magazine, 1985: The Charm of a Well-Dressed Man