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The surprising reason behind Labor Day rules

Gwyneth Paltrow.
Gwyneth Paltrow. Todd Williamson/AP Images

I never thought these words would come out of my mouth, but Gwyneth Paltrow, thank you. Thank you for showing up at the LA premiere of your new movie — on Sept. 17, well after Labor Day — wearing the color white.

Your choice was either an example of a Hollywood celebrity playing by her own rules, or a brilliant PR move aimed at winning over the constituency that may dislike you most: those with such limited wardrobe options that that they’re sometimes forced into post-Labor Day white for lack of anything else to wear.

The latter is a group that includes me, and a few days after Labor Day I spent an entire day apologizing to onlookers for my white Gap jeans. Not that anyone said anything to my face. (Unless your wardrobe infraction meets the clinical definition of “malfunction,” no one confronts you. But you know what they’re thinking.)

One theory traces the rule to the time when the wealthy left the city for the summer, and white was what they wore while on holiday, at their seaside, while dark colors were reserved for getting back to business. That marked anyone wearing white after Labor Day as a rube.


But at a time when a bra strap is practically an accessory, and young women wear Uggs in the summer and flip-flops in the winter, why should white continue to cause insecurity? Especially when even the Emily Post etiquette experts have ruled that it’s OK?

Here’s why. Many of those who are insecure about wearing white into fall don’t answer to Emily Post but to a higher source: the voice in our head that belongs to our mother, and for women of a certain age her dictates were laid down years before the etiquette experts loosened the rule.


So, Mom, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry about the white pants.

Beth Teitell can be reached at bteitell@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @bethteitell.