White After Labor Day, Vol. 5, Issue 32

Dear Etiquetteer:

A group of us are planning to vacation together at a Southern beach resort this fall, a trip we’re all looking forward to. Last week one of my friends was casually talking about packing and said "Well, I’m definitely not packing anything white since it’ll be well after Labor Day." This led to a whole discussion about what was really right or not. One person said no white after Labor Day was right, and someone else said that that rule only applied to bags and shoes. Someone else even said that those rules didn’t apply if you’re on vacation or especially at the beach. What’s the real story on this, Etiquetteer?

Dear Whited Out:

How Etiquetteer wishes that all etiquette could be as straightforward as the Golden Rule! Issues like, this, however, prove that everyday manners can become very tangled, even more than Which Fork to Use.

Etiquetteer loves summer white, and really does not understand all these hipsters now changing out their summer black for their fall black. Etiquetteer believes this whole thing got started with Lily Hammersley, who later became the Duchess of Marlborough. During her first marriage she’d hang out at the Casino in Newport dressed completely in white and a total outcast. Her all-white wardrobe was branded as affected. Indeed, there were even cutting remarks about her in the paper! Later, after she’d moved away from Newport, everyone started wearing total white for the summer.* The first regiment in battle always takes the most bullets . . .

Just when and how to wear white becomes a little blurry – grayer, if you will – after Labor Day and before Memorial Day. The first thing to establish, since you all are heading off to the beach, is that white shoes and handbags are Perfectly Proper at resorts, even in autumn. Keep in mind that all the locals will recognize you as tourists, and therefore new in town and "ripe for the picking," as those Dickensian pickpockets used to say.

Daily life brings with it more restrictions, and one of the most inviolable is No White After Labor Day. White shoes, white handbags, white slacks, white jeans, white jackets, and especially white dinner jackets for men – are all Absolutely Improper in autumn, winter, and spring. No less a person than Katie Couric is still learning this important lesson, now that she’s taking justified criticism for wearing a white jacket for her first evening newscast. White gloves, on the other hand, are always Perfectly Proper for ladies, and Etiquetteer hopes you’ll run right off to get a pair to go with your Navy Red or Cherries in the Snow lipstick.

Dear Etiquetteer: After your advice earlier this summer, I just wanted to let you know that I got a lot of compliments on the seersucker suit I wore to the wedding (and a few Matlock comments), and there was at least one other person who wore seersucker to the wedding.

Dear Well-Suited: Thank you for letting Etiquetteer know! Let skeptics everywhere note (and you know who you are) that at an informal evening wedding in summer, a seersucker suit is just as Perfectly Proper as a dark suit.

*More on this charming lady and other American duchesses in Marian Fowler’s lovely book "In a Gilded Cage."