Judith Martin: From Memorial Day to Labor Day, you may wear white shoes. Not before and not after. As a command, the White Shoe Edict should be clear and simple enough. Do not violate it. In a society in which everything else has become relative, a matter of how it makes you feel, a question between you and your conscience, and an opportunity for you to be really you, this is an absolute.
Today is my Friday. I’m taking tomorrow off to “enjoy” an extended doctor’s appointment and a trip to Costco before the long holiday weekend.
This weekend signals the start of the season when we can wear white. Do you pay attention to that nonsense? Every year around Easter the fashion magazines start the age-old debate. How did this “No white before Memorial Day or after Labor Day” fashion rule start?
According to the Emily Post Institute: Back in Emily’s day—the nineteen 00s, 10s and 20s—the summer season was bracketed by Memorial Day and Labor Day. Society flocked en masse from town house to seaside “cottage” or mountain “cabin” to escape the heat. City clothes were left behind in exchange for lighter, whiter, summer outfits. Come fall and the return to the city, summer clothes were put away and more formal city clothes donned once more. It was an age when there was a dress code for practically every occasion, and the signal to mark the change between summer resort clothes and clothing worn for the rest of the year was encapsulated in the dictum “No white after Labor Day.” And it stuck.
Now, of course, you can wear white after Labor Day, and it makes perfect sense to do so in climates where September’s temperatures are hardly fall-like. It’s more about fabric choice today than color. Even in the dead of winter in northern New England, the fashionable wear white wools, cashmeres, jeans, and down-filled parkas. The true interpretation is “wear what’s appropriate—for the weather, the season, or the occasion.”
Does this ring true to you? The prior two paragraphs sound like they’re part of a novel written about New York City society in the late 19th century, perhaps Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen. When we were kids, yes, we had a summer wardrobe that consisted of shorts and tank tops. As adults, the winter coats were put away and the windbreakers were put in the front of the closet. And I still wear white shoes in the winter. Of course, I live in Southern California, so my white shoes don’t get mixed in with the snow.