After Labor Day: OK to Wear White?

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As sure as temperatures cool and leaves start to change color, the question arises: Should the white wardrobe be stored along with bathing suits and sun hats?

Traditionally, in the Northeast, a dress code was clear: The summer whites came out after Memorial Day and went away after Labor Day. Fashion historian Bronwyn Cosgrave remembers how, growing up, "You had this short season to wear white."

But in the age of Lady Gaga, anything seems to go. (We're looking at you, meat dress.) And yet the outdated rule still causes a closet crisis come the end of summer. "Don't wear white after Labor Day" rose 2000% in Yahoo! searches. Fashionistas also looked up "why can't you wear white after labor day" and "no white after labor day" in the last week.

The question spilled onto the Web. Fashion forums were contradictory. One blogger for the retail site Zappos cautioned that white should not be worn "below the waist" after Labor Day.

Another advised against white shoes (although LaJollaMom approved wearing Manolo Blahnik white boots from Neiman Marcus, if you could stomach the $1,695 price tag.)

How did we get stuck in this anti-white rut? The curator for the museum at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM), Kevin Jones, says that it all started with America's high society, who dressed for the season -- the social season.

"If it's summer, you're not in the city, you're at your country home," Jones explained. The popular choice, white cotton clothing, reflected light and kept you cool. Jones adds, "Once the season ended, their garments changed." Back in town for fall, women, who wore long skirts in the dirty city streets, changed their wardrobes to heavier, darker fabrics.

Nice lifestyle if you were part of it. But for the rest of us, and the fashion world, times have changed -- and the rule really doesn't apply. Even the 2004 book "Emily Post's Etiquette, 17th Edition" says it's fine to wear white after Labor Day.

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