Many years ago on a warm April day, I recall my ex mother-in-law Constance calling out the window to her childhood friend Mary Alice and saying, "Oh Mary Alice, you know nice Immaculate Heart of Mary Academy girls aren't suppose to wear white before Memorial Day. Didn't Sister Rose teach you anything?" followed by a chuckle.
She was kidding of course, and keep in mind these women were well into their 60s by this point, and had attended said academy in Arkansas many moons ago.
I remember wondering how such an etiquette rule was conceived and how the creator of this rule was made the authoritarian on fashion etiquette. Time went by and my interest in this subject waned.
Fast forward, 16 years later. I'm running from store to store. First Target, then Nordstrom, then Macy's then Famous Footwear and I keep seeing white shoes, after white dress, after white skirts.
Now, I don't claim to be last season's winner of Project Runway, but I do know that next season's garb is typically displayed for sale several months in advance. So, who and or where did this rule of 'White is only to be worn between Memorial Day and Labor Day' actually come about. When you need a fashion or etiquette question answered who do you look to for such advice? Well, Judith Martin (Miss Manners) and Valerie Steele (Director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology), of course!
According to these two lovely ladies, in the late 19th century and the 1950s, more people were entering the middle classes. These nouveau-riche folks were often unaware of the standards of high society, so they were given specific codified rules to follow in order to fit in. Somewhat along the lines of salad forks and dessert spoons, I suppose.
By the 1950s this rule had pretty much calcified to a set-in-stone rule, sort of like white gloves being worn to church. Could this really be a simple case of good old-fashioned propagation by aspirants? Those savvy enough to learn all the rules increased their odds of earning a ticket into polite society. Perhaps, it was insiders trying to keep other people out and outsiders trying to climb in by proving they know the rules.
But wait, what about some simple folklore and a Southern girl's assumptions that all Southern girls know bad manners when they see them?
Star Jones was once quoted as saying, "White shoes are for Easter Sunday and not the dead of winter."
Could it be that the white shoe rule came from south of the Mason-Dixon line? Now I can't help but wonder if I were to break out the white shoes for Easter Sunday, do I need to return them to their box in hibernation until Memorial Day? After much research, I can only surmise that the point of this rule is to ensure that people only wear summer fashions during the actual summer months.
The opposite probably applies as well, but people generally don't need to be reminded to avoid wearing a Lands' End goose-down parka in 100-degree weather. Perhaps this might be the year that I break the rules and pull out my white skirt a little early. Easter Sunday? Probably not, but when the temps continue as high as they've been and the simple fact that the snapdragons I planted last spring came back full bloom a month ago, I think an exception might be made. Until next time, Aimee...