As an image consultant, clients like to hear my take on fashion etiquette and the countless rules handed down from generations past.
One perennial question is “What about wearing white after Labour Day?” The rule’s been around for a century, originating in Britain, and was likely part of distinguishing between classes. Many points of etiquette were borne out of segregating the blue bloods from the nouveau riche. So, why adhere to this rule today? Does it even matter anymore?
When asked questions on etiquette, I like to consider how the rule originated, but even more important, whether it still makes good common sense in our current environment and society.
Some rules are simply followed as tradition. They may be outdated, but generation after generation keeps the actions alive without question or challenge. A young bride will wear a white dress on her wedding day in North America, or a red silk artistically embroidered Qi Pao or Chengsam in China, or a beautiful silk saree with detailed stonework along with sequins and zari in India.
But then there are the simply ridiculous rules. My favourite is the rule that woman should cover their shoulders at the dinner table. There may have been some merit to women’s shoulders being a distraction to men during meals, back in a time when women only bared their shoulders at a formal ball once or twice a year. But I, in my thirty-odd years of dining, have never heard a complaint nor witnessed a lack of concentration when a man is served his meal in front of a woman with bare shoulders.
But back to white.
In my opinion, it all comes down to the weather wherever you live. “No white after Labour Day and before Easter”, was born in a time when summer temperatures followed that schedule in Britain. But the rule doesn’t consider temperatures year-round in Southern California, for instance. It doesn’t jive with our new reality of unpredictable weather around the world today. Does winter arrive in October, November, December or January? Does spring arrive in March, April or May? The fraternal twin rule to the white rule is “No velvet before Thanksgiving or after Valentine’s Day“. I can’t remember a year I would have felt comfortable wearing velvet before December in Toronto, but just last year I could have worn it all February long!
The colour of clothing should be treated the same as the type of fabric and texture of garments. Light colours and fabrics can be practically worn in warm weather. Darker colours and heavier fabrics only make sense in cooler weather. It’s that simple. I’ve worn corduroy in September and linen in March, choosing to do so solely based on the rise and fall of that little tube of mercury outside my window.
Any fashion etiquette you feel strongly about? Traditions you choose to challenge or cherish?