Fashion Advice from Our Mothers: No Whites After Labor Day

I pulled my white skirt from the closet, thinking I better wear it now; I only have a couple more days to do so.  My mother always said not to wear white after Labor Day.  That got me remembering some of   mom’s other fashion advice like be sure to wear clean underwear and don’t use safety pins to fix your bra (sew it!).

I thought how everyone’s mother must have done the same thing:  volunteering opinions, praise, and criticism.  I know I’ve done my share. I asked about 50 women of all ages and backgrounds to recall what their mothers said about fashion.

Here’s a round up:

On Wearing White

“ I, of course, strongly remember no white after Labor Day, and not before Easter. That is big in the south.”   ~Tammi  

Though many contested the idea; declaring how wonderful whites look throughout fall and winter.

“Regarding “White after Labor Day”, as a “Fashionista”, I’ll have you know…that “rule” NO LONGER stands.  You can wear white & open toe heels ALL YEAR LONG! ~ Sakina

“I write wearing my whites – polo shirt and gray chinos – to set off my summer tan as I take off on bike ride to see a sailboat on the rocks, skewered by its mast courtesy of Irene. Can’t beat that contrast, tan to white, for the usually pasty set! Signed, ‘Always a Sailor’” ~ Diana P.

Many,  including my mother, noted that “winter whites” are acceptable but not in shoes.

On Underwear

 The appearance and condition of underwear must have kept our mothers awake worrying.

“Make sure your underwear is not only clean, but not torn. Don’t want to wind up in an emergency room with shabby underwear. Don’t want to wind up in an emergency room period.”~ MOM

“Make sure you don’t have holes in your socks when you go to the doctor” ~  Adeena

“My Aunt Elaine always told us: Your underwear MUST match.   God forbid if you get in an accident and become unconscious, you will be treated better if your underwear matches. The MD/EMTs will assume that you have insurance!”~ Robin 

“I was told the same things you were, but after my mom fell and broke her hip a few years ago, and they had to cut away her undergarments, it made more sense to wear old underwear since they would just cut it up anyway, in case of an accident.”~ Eileen

“Be sure your bra strap doesn’t show!  Now it’s a fashion statement to show your cool, thin, colorful (or not) bra straps!” Nancy K.

“Growing up in the ’60’s my mom was thrilled if I just covered all the “important” parts and wore a bra.” ~Nancy J.

“Wear a girdle; a jiggly booty is unbecoming. If you have a sheer-ish skirt, a slip is necessary and appropriate. Something I actually do still adhere to today.”~ Lisa P.

One friend offered the advice she gives her twenty-something daughters:  “Always wear something sexy underneath even if no one is going to see it.   You will feel fab.  Wear a thong  you don’t want panty lines.”~Sharon

On Stockings & Shoes:

“Wear pantyhose in the workplace. My mom also made us only colored tights with short skirts.”~ Judy

“I remember my mom making me change my shoes once on the way to high holidays. Forget about cleansing and purification, In Northern Virginia the high holidays was all about fashion. “Who looks at shoes?” I said, sure that whatever scuffed and inappropriate clodhoppers I had on would meet with God’s approval.

She looked at me with weary disdain: “Everybody looks at shoes.”~  Debra G.

“Fix your shoes. If they are good enough to wear, they should be mended.”~ MOM

“I do remember loving that my mother always bought multiple colors of shoes she liked and always had the bag to match.”~Teri  (My mother had matching gloves, too.) 

On Hats & Hair

“You must wear a hat when you go out. Ever hear of a house without a roof?”~  Robin

“No straw hats before Memorial Day or after Labor Day.”~Gilla 

From Grandma:  “It is a lady’s DUTY to have her hair combed when she is in public.  Whatever it takes to accomplish that is fair game.”

From mom:  It totally doesn’t matter what curlers you put in your hair or where you place them as long as it they are curled straight to the head.”~  Deanne

“Don’t wear a hairstyle you have to keep fixing all day “~  Yaaileith

On Styles & Patterns

 “Mom told me I was too short to wear bikini when I was 16 and 100 pounds. Now of course, I’m too old and doughy for one.”~ Marla

“My mother was all about wearing anything that was slenderizing: no horizontal stripes, wear dark colors and she strongly advised against sleeveless blouses.”~  Madeline S. 

“My mother liked me to wear one color, or a matching print for both top and bottom and even matching shoes so that I would look taller.”~  Beth

“Never wear yellow because it washes out your skin.  I love the color and wear it a lot nowadays. She always told me to make sure my skirts or dresses went below the knee because she thought women’s knees were ugly.”~Audrey

“Short shorts were for your backyard only.”~Betsy A.

On Being Ladylike

Leave a little something for their imaginations. A little lipstick never hurt anyone.”~ Terri

Always get dressed when you go out.  You never know who you will run into.”~ Judy

“Never wear an all new outfit. It’s ostentatious. Wear something old with something new.” ~ Betsy

“Your clothes should always be ironed. Clothes must be washed after one use (no re-wearing of clothes, even if you only had them on for church or a few hours). “~Lisa P.

In General:

“The way you dress will be people’s first impression of you.”~  Nancy P.

“Sit up straight or you get a hump in your back.”  ~Pamela”

“The only advice we had from our parents (being in Russia) is to dress worm when it is cold (-40C).”~ Yelena

“Always carry a hanky, and make sure you have twenty cents in case you have to make a phone call.”~ Kaye

On Being Yourself

 What you wear should please YOU. It should not reflect what others think.”~ Nita


I hear myself in some of these quotes and know I’ve commented about cleavage, sheerness, short skirts, tight jeans, no stockings in freezing weather, too long earrings, and more. I hope my daughter forgives me.

Mom’s shoes and bag matches her jacket.

Semi-Formal , 2007.Madeline and the shirt she commented about.

(photos from non- royalty websites)


About cyclingrandma

I was a journalist (Danbury News-Times, Ct), before becoming a teacher, and continue to write for professional journals. I have written several study guides for Penguin Books and write for Education Update, a newspaper based in New York City. ( I’ve interviewed many authors, college presidents, and scientists. I wrote “The Kentucky Derby’s Forgotten Jockeys” for Smithsonian Magazine's website, (April, 2009). Two essays have been published in book anthologies; one for Wisdom of Our Mothers, (Familia Books) and the other in “College Search and Parent Rescue: Essay for Parents by Parents of College-Going Students.” (St. Martin’s Press). I was a middle school Language Arts teacher for more than 10 years and have just completed a five year grant position under No Child Left Behind in Newark, NJ public schools. I have three children, two daughters-in law, and six grandchildren. I'm an avid cyclist, knitter, cook, and reader. I love theater, museums, and yoga.
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15 Responses to Fashion Advice from Our Mothers: No Whites After Labor Day

  1. Stella Sormani says:

    Great post! I love how things have changed – and also how things haven’t changed.


  2. Madeline Taylor says:

    Ahhhh, the age-old question; white after labor day? I always though it just applied to shoes especially here in the south where it stays damn hot well through October. I wore white shorts to school today (casual Friday) and am already pondering my outfit for monday which might include (drum roll) White pants! So, next question. If we wear summer whites well into October, when is it O.K. to start wearing winter whites (which I generally avoid as me in wooly, flannel, quilted or padded white anything tends to conjur the image of the Stay-Puff Marshmallow man)? I Once asked my friend, Maureen, from Nevada, what the deal was with white and she said the debate was so daunting she would rather just not wear anything at all. Sometimes, that surely makes the most sense and would prove the easiest – if we didn’t have such poor body image issues! I do not follow prescribed fashion advice and I certainly do not follow trends. I love my clothes, accessories and the unique ways I manage to ‘carry it off.’ Yet, clothes off – I could not have a worse sense of body image. Today I got compliments galore on a shirt that I felt I’d wear today and then toss it in the giveaway pile. I felt I looked like a middle aged pregnant lady. It’s the type of thing my mother would call either a tent as it ‘hides my figya’ or a schmata as the quality of the fabric ‘ain’t what it used to be.’ Yet, many folks at work said it was slimming, stunning, unusual and glamourous. I protested and one woman ventured to ask why I was so hard on myself. Oy. Does that dirty underwearreally need to be aired? No, I’ll just hang the “tent” in the closet and know that next time, I’ll wear it with hte air of abandon and beauty it deserves!


  3. Barbara W. Klein says:

    What a great picture of Lydia. Love Mom


  4. Barbara W. Klein says:

    Never liked Baby Doll Shoes. Now they are very fashionable. Remarked that I didn’t like BabyDoll shoes to a friend and then noticed that she was wearing them.
    i like cropped pants of any length but do not think they are serious looking and should be treated
    casually. Came upon an old picture of my aunt, who dresses to perfection, taken in the 50’s. She was wearing Toreodore pants, heels and a dressy blouse. Can’t say she looked bad!
    Love Mom.


  5. Barbara W. Klein says:

    Love Madeline’s comment . Mom


  6. Leah says:

    Great post! I often wonder if I should start putting my sandals and open-toe shoes away after Labor Day. Although since I live in San Diego, maybe I have different rules. I do agree with your mom on the pantyhose to work. I’m probably the only person my age who wears them on a regular basis. And my mother wouldn’t be caught dead outside her house without make-up. Even if she’s just going to the mailbox.


  7. Barbara W. Klein says:

    I takie issue with the horizontal stripe rule. No fashion Guru’s mandate, just Barbara Klein’s observations.. You don’t follow a stripe like a railroad train,from length to length. A horizontal stripe makes you look up and down and therefore you see the length of the person. With a vertical stripe you look from side to side and focus on the width of the person. If a stripe is varied in width and color, you focus on the design, not on the girth. Same goes for dark colors, prints and sleeveless shirts. It all depends . Love Mom.


  8. My mum thought the brighter the better—even if it didn’t match!!– Charity

    I’m still getting in some responses and will post as comments.


  9. Sharon Gill says:

    Defying convention today, the day after Labor Day, wearing my white jeans.


  10. Pingback: My Fashion Dilemma: A Full Closet, Yet Nothing to Wear! | cyclingrandma

  11. Pingback: Fashion Passion: Scarves! | cyclingrandma

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