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Fashionistas get ready: It’s safe to break out the white clothing.


Fashionistas, get ready. Now that Memorial Day has come and gone, it's safe to break out the white clothing. But we're wondering why. I mean, sure, it's hot, wear white, but what's so terrible about wearing white after Labor Day?


Well, the answer goes back to old Europe, where white clothing was a symbol of wealth. Here's Anne Higonnet. She's an art historian at Barnard College.

ANNE HIGONNET: In the 17th century, one sees many portraits of great aristocrats wearing splendid, white, silk satin outfits.

MARTIN: And why did rich folks wear whites?

HIGONNET: Because white is difficult to maintain.

MARTIN: So clean whites were a sign you had the wherewithal - the money or staff - to keep them white.

FADEL: Fast-forward to the turn of the 20th century in America, where white clothing became both a symbol of wealth and the changing of the seasons. Here's fashion historian Raissa Bretana.

RAISSA BRETANA: Those Gilded Age families were able to decamp to their Newport cottages, where they would don summer clothing, often white, that was more appropriate for those locations.

MARTIN: The seasonal clothing industry emerged in the 1920s, starting with men's fashion.

BRETANA: There was a date where you switched from your felt to your straw hats for summer, and then a date where you switched back to your felt hats for the fall. And those dates happened to fall right around Memorial Day and Labor Day.

MARTIN: But things got out of hand in 1922 with something called the Straw Hat Riots.


BRETANA: People started, you know, snatching straw hats off of the heads of unsuspecting men in New York City and destroying them because it was after Labor Day.

FADEL: Cooler heads and hats prevailed, but the seasonal fashion industry was off and running. Bretana says these days, the rules about wearing white after Labor Day are no longer such a thing.

BRETANA: In recent years, it's been more fashionable to say this is absolutely not a rule that you should be following. So it's interesting to see how the tide has changed to rules are meant to be broken.

MARTIN: And if you don't want to worry about all that, well, get a job in radio. Wear what you want.

(SOUNDBITE OF RIGHT SAID FRED SONG, "I'M TOO SEXY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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