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Ask Belle: Rules About White

Hi Belle,

I wore a white dress to a party this weekend and my boyfriend’s dad spent the whole night making jokes about wearing white after Labor Day.  I grew up in California, where you wear white 365 days per year, can you give me some insight into what the rules are in DC?


When it comes to wearing white shoes after Labor Day, in my opinion, that’s a big no-no.  White shoes are for summer only unless you’re a bride.

If you choose to wear a white dress, a white blazer or other white piece, it needs to be made of a seasonally appropriate fabric and a seasonally appropriate style.  You can’t wear a sheer cotton voile dress, for example, but a white wool tuxedo blazer or a white tweed dress works.  

Sometimes bending the fashion “rules” can be fun and chic, but white shoes and summer styles are not to be worn after Labor Day.

Leave a Reply to anon 2.0 · cancel comment


  1. Jessica says:

    What about an ivory dress made of brocade fabric like this one?

    My husband and I are having an anniversary party and vow renewal and I was planning to wear this the first weekend in November.

    October 18, 2012/Reply
  2. Lauren says:

    I think this completely depends on where you live. I'm in Florida, where summer styles are appropriate 9 to 10 months out of the year. I would not blink to see somebody in a white dress or white pants at any point in the year.

    October 18, 2012/Reply
  3. L says:

    I'm of the opinion you can wear nude/taupe pumps year round, do you agree? Someone made me feel like it was too close to white recently…

    October 18, 2012/Reply
  4. Belle says:

    Lauren: If you live in a resort community, the rules are slightly different.

    L: I don't think nude are in the same boat as white. Just don't wear them with tights. If you go for flesh toned, you need to be barelegged or wearing sheer hose.

    October 18, 2012/Reply
  5. Helena says:

    KW's boyfriend's dad doesn't seem like he'd win any etiquette awards. She shouldn't worry too much.

    October 18, 2012/Reply
  6. Leigh says:

    I was just in Dallas shopping and one of the sales ladies said that the white after labor day thing didn't apply anymore.

    Anyhow, I am from California and I wouldn't hesitate to wear white anywhere, at any time. Maybe it's just me, but I don't really mind breaking fashion rules. What's the point anyway?

    I do, however, agree that the fabric should be (a) seasonally appropriate or (b) worn in an area (Florida or California) that is temperate all year if it is not seasonally appropriate.More for practical reasons than anything else.

    I also agree that the boyfriend's dad wouldn't win any ettiquite rules. He sounds like a jerk.

    October 18, 2012/Reply
  7. BBB says:

    Jessica – I am no fashion expert by any means, but I would think you could wear that the 1st week in Nov. Especially considering you're wearing it for a vow renewal. I love that dress.

    October 18, 2012/Reply
  8. Anonymous says:

    For KW,

    Your bf's father either must not have gotten the fashion memo where the old rule of “wearing white after Labor Day is a no-no” or your bf's father is really traditional. Either way, don't let the comment shake you. He could just be joshing with you, too. Wearing white during the colder months (winter season) does somewhat depend upon fabric as Belle says. It also has to do with the tone of the white and the confidence of the person wearing the clothes. I think warmer-whites are easier to pull off for the winter months. The most important thing is to be confident and you can pull off wearing white, even if your audience missed the memo about the old rules of white after Labor Day.

    October 18, 2012/Reply
  9. Allison says:

    Under no cirmcumstances should anyone wear white after labor day. Winter white is a bit of a misnomer as the color is more of a cream.

    Any saleswoman who says the rules don't apply is trying to clear out summer inventory.

    October 18, 2012/Reply
  10. Ella says:

    Having rules about what colors can be worn when is obviously a first world issue. That said, following those rules does matter if you're trying to make a good impression on people who uphold those rules.

    Yes, your boyfriend's dad's comments were out of line, but those thoughts were probably also in the minds of other people you encountered that night. If you feel you can overcome whatever disadvantage that may create for you then wear white all you want.

    Personally, I don't want people- even people with outdated mindsets- to think I'm committed a faux pas, so I follow their rules about wearing white. Same reason I follow the “rules” about always wearing hose in a courtroom even in the summer. Standing up for my belief that those rules are outdated just isn't worth it to me. I don't want that lowering their opinion of me even if the misunderstanding is theirs.

    October 18, 2012/Reply
  11. Shelley says:

    It's going to be 88 degrees in Los Angeles today so I'm not wearing dark colors and a scarf because people tell me that it is expected of me in October. It's a summer-like day and everyone I see is dressed appropriately for the warm weather.

    October 18, 2012/Reply
  12. Mpls says:

    If it feels like summer weather, wear summer clothes. Dress for the weather, not the calendar.

    Bright white feels more spring/summery (to me), so I use it in my spring/summer wardrobe, and lean more winter white/ivory for my fall/winter clothes. So if's 80 degrees in late September, you bet that I'm likely wearing white after Labor Day. And not having any white shoes solves that other problem.

    October 18, 2012/Reply
  13. Tierra says:

    I tend to agree with Allison here. The rules have not changed. To me, it does look silly to wear white or anything very summery after labor day. Seersucker, linen, boat shoes (unless you ARE on a boat), and white should be put away. You can take them out again at Easter, whenever it falls that year. (some people say Memorial day, but I'm fine with Easter). So, if you are from somewhere else, realize that it may be fine to do there. But it may not be ok here. I mean, you don't have to follow any fashion rule. But know that some people will think, “Oh, she must not know . . . ” instead of “She's such a classy rebel!”

    October 18, 2012/Reply
  14. anon 2.0 says:

    Wow. KW, I apologize for your bf's dad's lack of graciousness. He is obviously too much of an asshole to realize the faux pas HE made by dissing you! As I suspect I am in the same age group as the man in question, I can say with some certainty that a true gentlemen would never do that.

    I am also stymied by this. I also have that damned no white after labor day crap rule ingrained in me, but note there are “winter” white clothes sold every. single. year. I absolutely love warm ivory and creams (think cashmere, fine merino wools, etc.) in the winter.

    The no white clothes during a certain point of the year rule is not based on any logic I can think of. You are no more likely to get your whites dirty in the winter that in the summer.

    I am not a fan of white shoes at any time (lest one is the bride, right?) so I can't comment on that one.

    October 19, 2012/Reply
  15. Spiritmom says:

    No matter what you decide about white after labor day, I'd think hard about getting too serious with a guy who has such a rude father. What's next? Telling you to “get to the gym” 4 weeks after you've had a baby. Oh wait, that was my dad.

    October 26, 2012/Reply