No White After Labor Day!

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So ladies, it’s that time of year. The time where you are expected to stash away those sandals and shorts and suddenly don cable-knit sweaters and cords. Here in the Nation’s Capital it’s around 95 degrees and I have a feeling that come Tuesday the weather wills till be as hot. I can recall Halloweens as a child, sweating to death in my faux-fur cat costume. So of course you aren’t expected to suddenly change to woolens come September 4th, but with the change in the seasons should be a certain change in your fashion outlook.

whiteWhat About White?
Many of us were raised with the rule that you never wear white after Labor Day or before Memorial Day. Is this still gospel? Well… it’s kind of hard to answer.

A few seasons ago Balenciaga featured white patent shoes for December and many a fashionista has been photographed in a black cashmere turtle with white jeans in the cooler months. This doesn’t mean all white is acceptable.

Magazines may show that you can take your gauzy white sundress and make it fall-worthy with dark tights and a turtleneck but we all know that look RARELY works in real life. Take your linen, eyelet and gauze and pack them away until next year. Same with all-white dresses, belts and handbags. The weather may still be sweltering, but the tone has changed. Get through the last few hot weeks of the year with more subdued of colors.

As for white shoes, I say unless you can afford the Balenciagas, put them away. Personally, I think the only people who should own a pair of white shoes are nurses, graduates and brides. Tan is a far better color for your summer styles and they don’t have an expiration date. White can easily look cheap or tacky and if you get a scuff, they suddenly go from summery to fugly.

So what white can you keep? White tops are okay, as long as they are not strapless, gauzy beachy styles. I think white jeans can work if they aren’t Clorox-pure. A winter white hue, white with tan stitching, these sorts of details make them look seasonless and not a summer leftover. The fashionistas are right – they look chic with a black cashmere turtleneck and boots. White blazers can last another month or so when paired with black or dark denim. A white suit can work in some circles if paired say with a black top and black or printed shoes. White bags are acceptable if they follow the rules of the white jeans – have black or tan stitching and accents or are more ivory or winter white.

summer topWhat is a Summer-Only Dress?
Today at lunch I saw a woman enter the restaurant wearing the same Old Navy sundress that I own. It’s cotton with a v-neck, empire waist and full babydoll-inspired skirt. The dress hits both she and me a couple inches above the knee. For me, this dress was worn on weekends with flip flops to barbecues and over a swimsuit at the beach or pool. This woman decided to Fall-erize it with a brown spandex ballet tee and brown leggings under it and russet-hued peeptoe flats. Great shoes and I would love to know who makes that tee, but the outfit was pathetic. She didn’t make that dress appropriate for the shorter and cooler days, she just looked as though she put fall accessories with a very summer dress.

Now some summer dresses can transition to fall quite easily. Pieces in black, brown and other dark shades carry over nicely. A pattern can go well, if it is a subtle hue. It’s pretty hard to make aqua, coral or candy pink look right in September. However a print in olive, terracotta or indigo can look quite cute with a pair of brown t-strap pumps in place of your tan sandals. Heavier fabrics like twill, ponte de roma and denim will work well with tights and Mary Janes or a white collared shirt or turtleneck underneath come October. No matter what Lucky magazine may say, unless you are a creative genius, pack up the flippy summery gauzy pieces and don’t try to marry them with dark underpinnings.

shoeWhat is a Summer-Only Shoe?
Flip-flops. These should be retired except for padding around your house and yard. This includes the leather, patent and beaded variations.

The gladiator sandal. I love this look for the warmer months, but it’s just not a right look in September.

Shoes out of summer fabrics or in summer colors and patterns. This means candy pink, tangerine, aqua, lime, celadon, pale blue, white and cream. No Swiss dot, no eyelet, no linen, no madras, no gingham, no seersucker. I don’t care if you pair them with darker jeans and a blazer, these are summer shoes, these trends have retired for the year and therefore should retire from your closet.

What Else Should I Pack Away?
Clear, straw or mesh bags, anything with rope detail, any shorts that are not City shorts, your distressed denim minis, anything that shows your navel (another thing I am wondering why it even exists in your wardrobe), capris and cotton or cargo skirts that are not a neutral color (the neutrals can last a couple more weeks).

A good rule of thumb is that if your summer piece has classic or fall trend inspiration (black, darker hues or a neutral, 40s styling, darker prints, simple cuts, classic pieces like white shirts, sweater shells and pencil skirts) it can carry over until the weather cools. Switching the pants from white to black often does the trick in making a top fall-appropriate, as does switching sandals for a shoe with more coverage. Switching out your bag for a more substantial piece and putting away your bronzer can also get the job done. The weather may not change, but the season has. A few modifications can make your transition into the new season quite simple!

A woman with curly hair wearing a plaid blazer holds a green fur coat over her shoulder on a city street.

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  1. I’m from NC and we have four seasons but the warmer weather lasts longer into the fall than in other places… I think it would be silly to put away summer clothes when they are weather appropriate.  I’m a student at UNC and we generally wear our seersucker dresses to games as long as the warm weather allows :).  We also DEFINITElY wear light blue all year round; I’ve never even thought of that as a summer color to be honest.

    I’ve also bought many winter appropriate clothes in brighter colors. I have a neon pink oxford from j.crew and I don’t know a soul that would call it summer clothing; you would get heat stroke wearing 3/4 length oxford during the 90 degree 100% humidity summer and arguably through October when it still gets in to the 70s. 

    Not that you really said any of this was gospel, and I very much agree with you on white shoes and bags, but I would say if its in the 70s, the woman wearing gladiators and a white skirt is going to look a lot better than the woman wearing black pants and a neutral shirt, no matter that its October.  People will just think you forgot to check the weather if you try to get too technical about seasons– the sun does NOT know nor care that fashionistas think its inappropriate to wear warm weather clothes during September and there should be accounting for that.

  2. I love white shoes–I am very fair skinned and like how they show any sort of tan I’ve managed to get. I DO follow the rule about not wearing them after Labor Day.

    Today I am wearing black sandals, and someone had the rudeness to remind me that we aren’t supposed to wear sandals after Labor Day. I have never even heard this rule before. I live in the South, where it often stays warm until late November.

    I HAVE been looking for some tan pumps or dressy sandals to wear with red dresses. I’ll wear hose anyway, most likely, so the whiteness of my legs won’t be as much of a factor.

  3. I accidentally deleted Lori’s comment:

    Lori has left a new comment on your post “No White After Labor Day!”:

    “I am so glad I found this post today. I also live in the WDC area and find September the most difficult style month here. I was raised with the strict no white after Labor Day or before Easter rule.

    However: I am making a presentation at a conference the end of September in Orlando, FL.
    I picked navy mid-weight pants and a multicolored shirt with a fake white cami. I thought that covered the gap okay, even with the white cami. Are navy open toe with white trim okay?”

    Hey Lori, sorry about that. And yes, I think those shoes would be fine for September in Florida. best of luck with your presentation!!

  4. I notice no one has posted a comment lately, but this has become a hot topic in my circles in metro Indianapolis. The online searching I have conducted reveals no hard and fast rule. In fact, many sites are guessing as to wear this whole white after labor day started. My thoughts? In Indiana in September we still have 75-80 degree days. It’s beautiful. I can tell you I am not putting my white sheath dress from Bloomies in the closet and donning brown because someone MAY or MAY not have said this is a rule. To me, my rule is when the leaves change, so shall the wardrobe. So if you come to Indy and see a 40-something black woman in a fabulous white sheath and beige Miu Miu shoes, you know it’s this post-er. What would happen with fashion if designers were all sheep? To hell with the herd, I’ll take my chances as a shepherd! Wolves be damned!

  5. What about tan shoes? All these new fall styles are coming out in tan patent. They look awesome, but are they cold weather appropriate?

  6. I think it’s time to get rid of the white rule, except all white shoes. I think it’s okay to wear white with some brown in in it. It’s 90 degrees here most of the fall.
    I went to Venice,Italy at the beginning of June. They were dressed like it was January! In my deep South city of Mobile, AL, we had been wearing lime green since probably March. You could tell that bright colors just weren’t accepted there. Neither were capris. In fact, I had some bratty teens inquire in Italian if I was cold. IN JUNE! I don’t take my fashion cues from Europe, as I think they are declining in culture and everything else. But I didn’t want to stand out.
    But then, I went on a cruise to Greece, where most were Italian-suddenly resort wear was in.

  7. P.S. Though I might disagree with you personally, I still think that this is a great – and thought-provoking – post. I hope you’ll consider submitting it or another post to the Fabulous! Festival. I’m hosting next week and the topic is ‘color’. The deadline is Friday (the 14th) and the submission link is

  8. Yeah, I’ll have to disagree on this. Maybe it’s that I live in Florida, but I don’t believe that one’s style has to change with the season so long as it is temperature appropriate (and of course, looks great). I love to see white and other bright colors in the winter.

    As for white shoes… I love my Mary Jane style white ballet flats. I have worn them well with so many outfits (e.g. gray skirt & lavender top, black dress with small white polka dots, white sundress, etc.). I do make sure that my other accessories have some white in them, too – otherwise they’d stand out too much with some outfits. The only reason that I won’t be wearing them this week is that they’re getting refinished. Dealing with scuffs is the downside to white shoes, unfortunately.

  9. I came to this site because I am feeling insecure about wearing black and white pants (large print and fabulous) with a black top or tee tomorrow. I think they scream spring but if I wear them with black boots (short, funky with 1″ holes stitched out) I’ll feel fine.

  10. I’ve been waiting for the fashion police to come and arrest me–I’ve worn my white pencil-style shirt twice this week, with darker sweater sets. I live in New England, where the warm weather lasts three, four months at the most, so I’ve decided that summer lasts until the autumnal equinox. (Where did the Labor Day idea come from? back to school?) I have put away anything obviously summer (like flowered skirts and sandals, my straw bag), but I will continue to wear my lighter weight clothes for at least another week, albeit in more “fall-ish” combinations. I love your site–keeps me thinking. Off to Target to purchase one of your recommended lip glosses.

  11. Do know that much of what I write is general advice. A woman in Florida will have different wardrobe needs from one in Wisconsin. One can carry white into October when paired with maybe a black patent belt and peeptoes, or bright sandals with a khaki sheath. The areas of 2 or so seasons have different rules. You will also probably ignore the posts I write about winter coats. 🙂 Those in the Northwest will probably find some of my summer posts a bit ridiculous for their lifestyles as well.

    Today it is in the 90s in the Nations Capital, but that doesn’t mean my neighbors should be in white shorts and pink flip flops. But we live in a part of the world that has four seasons.

  12. Hmmmmm, I’m not sure about this either since I live in south Florida. People here wear flip flops year round! (We’re a beach community.)

  13. I strongly support “Winter white” as a staple for the fall/winter wardrobe.

    A white wool coat is definitely transitional, and a long ivory/white skirt is equally viable.

  14. I’m confused on what casual dressing will look like this fall with this more polished look going on. It’s hard to look polished being casual and not be too 80’s preppy. Can you help?

  15. I dunno, no mater the temperature, lime green heels and white shoes are tacky. With what is in style this fall, anything on this list would be unfashionable in a month or so nonetheless.

  16. I don’t know, these guidelines seem harsh. Bright color sandals can work with outfits even in winter here in Sunny California. Right now we’re in the middle of 100-degree heatwave and average temperature for September in my city is still well above 80, so I don’t see packing summer dresses and linen away until October.

  17. I think it makes sense. She’s not telling you to go wear a wool coat, and you can still wear light colors… it’s like you really shouldn’t wear the heavy black in Spring even if the day is only 50 degrees. Thanks for the reminder, summer has come and gone so quickly, I almost forgot Labor Day was here! How does summer go by so quickly?

  18. This is the only post that I completely disgree with. It is 105 degrees outside! I’m not going to decide what is acceptable and unacceptable to wear based on some antiquated idea that white should not be worn after labor day.

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