Emily Post(modern): White After Labor Day
Happy Day-After-Labor Day everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful day yesterday celebrating both the end of summer as well as all the people out there who get up every morning and go to work. I sure am grateful to those people because while they're kicking major butt doing the jobs that actually keep this country and its economy afloat, I get to make a living writing and speaking words - which I'm well aware makes me one of the luckiest people in the world.
That said, Labor Day isn't just about celebrating. For the women of America - southern debutantes and city girls alike - it is a day for reflection, a day for pause, and a day for some pretty heavy goodbyes. And no I'm not talking about that gorgeous Croatian man you met on your cruise of the Mediterranean this summer, or the youthful and energetic camp counselors that kept your kids busy all summer while you drank skinny margs with your gal pals. I'm talking, friends, about white shoes.
The "No white shoes after Labor Day" rule has been preached in my household since I was a little girl. For all the southern etiquette dictums I got away with breaking as a girl growing up in Los Angeles, for whatever reason this one stuck. I remember begging my mother to buy a pair of white light up sketchers for my first day of third grade, and she only gave in when I pointed out the pink flowers on the sides of the sketchers which meant the shoes were not entirely white and thus followed the rule.
Even as an adult I get in trouble now and then. I remember a Sunday in March last year when I was home visiting my parents in Oxford, MS and I wore white shoes with my church outfit. See, I hadn't remembered to pack my brown pumps to go with my brown slacks and navy Brooks Brothers blazer, so I was forced to choose between breaking both the "black/brown" AND "black/navy" rules by wearing a pair of black pumps with my outfit, or breaking just the "White After Labor Day" rule with a pair of white pumps. We were just a few weeks away from Easter* so I thought, "What's the harm?" As we walked up the path at First Presbyterian Church that morning my father was sure to inform me that I had made the wrong choice.
You think that's tough? Once upon a time this rule didn't apply to just shoes, but to fashion in general. Back in the nineteen 00s, 10s and 20s, the "summer season" was bracketed by Memorial Day and Labor Day (still is today). New York Society flocked en masse from their city dwellings to cooler temperatures on Long Island or up in the mountains to escape the heat. City clothes were left behind in exchange for lighter, whiter, summer outfits - which achieved not only a certain aesthetic but also a practical use... white was cooler. Come fall and the return to the city, these summer clothes were put away and more formal city clothes were donned once more. It was a time when there was a dress code for nearly every occasion, and having a summer wardrobe that was separate from one's every day wardrobe was a sign not only of the upmost elegance, but also of the upmost wealth and status. Thus the "No White After Labor Day" rule was born. By establishing a rule that only certain groups of people could follow, there was a clear societal delineation between the haves and the have nots.
Still confused? I understand. Times have, of course, changed and as with everything there are, of course, exceptions to every rule. So luckily for us, Emily Post(modern) is here with a modern day look at this age old rule, and a list of its exceptions. That said, if you do not adhere to the exceptions exactly, you WILL in no uncertain terms be bludgeoned with a pay phone by Kathleen Turner.
Alright dears, I really don't want anyone to be bludgeoned with a pay phone by Kathleen Turner on my watch. My acid reflux already keeps me up at night so the last thing I need is a series of White After Labor Day murders on my conscience. So here I give you my list of exceptions of the "White After Labor Day" rule. Read them, memorize them, live by them.
I hear your protests through the blogosphere... "But Emily Post(modern), what about Winter White?" This is a very valid question. Winter White is most certainly a thing, and I am in fact a huge fan! However there are parameters I must set for you.
Materials that qualify for Winter White include cashmere, silk-cashmere, wool, silk-wool, fur or faux fur (please make it faux fur, come on now y'all), possibly satin depending on what it's paired with, and occasionally leather but only in jackets. Materials that do not qualify for Winter White include silk, chiffon, linen, light cotton. This is non negotiable.
If your outfit meets fabric and material qualifications then you must ask yourself the following question: Are you Jennifer Lopez circa 2001 in Maid in Manhattan? If the answer is yes, then you are completely within your bounds. If the answer is no then you will be bludgeoned with a pay phone by Kathleen Turner. Here is why:
Do you see what I mean? This Dolce and Gabbana cream coat with sleeveless white silk cashmere turtle neck and white slacks that J Lo's character Marisa steals from Natasha Richardson's closet is PERFECTION. And probably the only way any of us could actually get this outfit would be to also steal it from Natasha Richardson's closet which in the REAL world would put us in JAIL so that's not going to happen. Also, in case you didn't notice, J Lo's love interest in this film is actually Voldemort in human form so if Kathleen Turner WERE to try and bludgeon her with a pay phone he'd just call his pet snake and consider it handled. The rest of us are S.O.L.
I hear you... sometimes there is nothing hotter than a pair of white jeans with black ankle boots, a leather jacket and a big ol' blanket scarf for a tailgate or an autumn evening out. Well you're in luck, because white denim is another exception I'm willing to condone, but only if we all have a Come To Jesus talk about it first.
If we are honest with ourselves, only about 20% of women ACTUALLY look good in white jeans. I am not one of them. I must have tried on 20 different pairs of white jeans this summer trying to make a pair work. I felt like Gretchen with "fetch"... it just wasn't going to happen. I have accepted it, and even though every now and then I'll dream that I look good in white pants, I always wake up devastated by the truth. So unless you look like one of the following women in white denim, you are not allowed to wear white denim after Labor Day on pain of being bludgeoned with a pay phone by Kathleen Turner.
Coco Chanel's White Suit
"But... but... CoCo Chanel, the grand dame of fashion herself, cast of this dictum and wore her classic white suit year round! If she can do it then why can't I wear white year round too?"
Why, you ask? Because no matter how many books on fashion you read, no matter how many posters or trays from Ben's Garden you have with CoCo Chanel quotes on them (I have about five), and no matter whether or not you wear Chanel No 5... YOU ARE NOT COCO CHANEL. No one will EVER be CoCo Chanel. I mean... Look at her:
She is a queen. And in this picture she is smoking a cig and shaking her finger at all we mere mortals who think we can hold a candle to her.
I know, it was hard for me to swallow too. But let's say it together. "I am not CoCo Chanel." Again. "I am not CoCo Chanel and therefore I cannot rock a white suit after Labor Day, and if I try I will fail and be bludgeoned with a pay phone by Kathleen Turner."
Unfortunately lovelies, there is not exception for white shoes. There just isn't. What makes JLo's Winter White, White Denim, and even CoCo Chanel's White Suit work after Labor Day is that they aren't wearing white shoes. Go back and look. Even on the runways, Winter White is always paired with a nude, pop of color, or dark black or brown shoe. So even though Patty Hearst's character in that clip from Serial Mom is correct - that fashion HAS changed - what is most important from the clip is that what Kathleen Turner was MOST upset about were Patty's white shoes.
"Didn't your mother ever tell you?!", Kathleen Turner shouts before landing the first blow. I know mine did. So unless any of the above exceptions apply to you, you better be putting those white shoes and clothing pieces away. But don't worry, Easter will be here before you know it, and we'll wake up on that Sunday morning to a Risen Christ and a closet full of white shoes waiting for us.
"Now you know."
With Grace and Good Humor,
* I am fully aware of the different schools of thought regarding whether one can start wearing white again after Easter or whether they must wait till Memorial Day. I grew up as an Easter girl... because how could I not wear white patent leather shoes on Easter Sunday? But seeing as how Memorial Day is technically the official start of summer I see how people can make an argument for waiting as well. As with all fashion, go with what feels right to you. Kathleen Turner and her pay phone respect both camps.