Breaking fashion’s autumn ban on white

Julie Rene Tran

Monday marked the bittersweet suspension of all things summer — from poolside sunbathing to frozen cocktails, summer is over. While this also usually means retiring white clothing, some summer trends are acceptable year-round and can freshen up your autumn wardrobe. The post-Labor Day moratorium on the color white has been an ongoing taboo in fashion since only Anna Wintour knows. Exactly how the rule became must-do-or-be-shunned etiquette is also uncertain, though there have been credits to social class structures and the changing seasons.

White has been worn for centuries, mainly in the summer, as a way to keep cool since lighter colors attract less heat from the sun. In the colder seasons, whites are dismissed since their clean canvas becomes an issue with snow and muddy rains. Over the years, fashion magazines like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar translate this practical fashion ideology into their look books. The result is a trend taken way too seriously.

But white can be worn in the fall and wintertime. Coco Chanel wore white year-round — it was a staple in her wardrobe. The important questions about wearing white in colder seasons really concern how the color is worn and whether it feels right. For instance, continuing to wear shiny patent white sandals with a harvest colored ensemble is too much contrast.

Here are some helpful dos and don’ts to wearing white during the fall season.

One versatile, white garment that can easily fit into any season’s wardrobe is the white button-down shirt. Paraded this season in collections including British line Thomas Pink and Yves Saint Laurent, this simple yet sophisticated mainstay can be worn dressed up or down. For a casual look for women and men, wear the shirt tucked in or loose with a pair of fitted dark denim or black jeans. Finish the look with some oxfords or canvas sneakers. For women, tousling hair to give body and volume or twisting hair into a side fishtail also gives a clean finish to this classic look. To take the white button-down to a fancier note, women can wear it with a camel-colored circle skirt or a pair of high-waisted navy trousers. For men, khaki or dark trousers can dress up the simple shirt.

Since the contrast of white against fall’s rich palette of browns, purples and navy can be blinding, it’s often better to wear just a touch of white at a time. Try accenting a pair of dark trousers or a skirt with a thin, white leather belt. A white monochromatic watch, a white structural leather bag or even white-painted nails can add an acceptable trace of white.

An easy method to decide whether a white garment or accessory is fitting for a fall ensemble is to pay attention to the details. Since most white clothes are made for the summer, the material is usually made of a lighter, billowing fabric or embroidered with flowery patterns. The bright aesthetic of these summery garments does not sit well against fall’s heavy, dark and structural looks. Use your intuition and ask yourself if the combination of white jeans and a wool sweater really fit together. Usually if you hesitate, the look doesn’t work.