Friday, October 6, 2017

Straw Hats, White Hats and White Shoes - a History of Wearing White Before Labor Day

Library of Congress.

The people will think – what I tell them to think!
  Orson Welles as Charles Foster Kane.

These sentiments reflect Orson Welles’ take on the journalistic philosophy of newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst, who served as the model for Kane in Welles’ 1941 classic film, Citizen Kane.  Although fiction, the words may nonetheless have some basis in truth. 

Hearst is widely credited (or blamed) for stoking anti-Spanish passions during the run-up to the Spanish-American war with sensationalized and falsified propaganda designed to sell more newspaper – or, as his critics called it at the time (120 years before President Trump used the expression) – “fake news.” 

Hearst also used “fake news” to stoke anti-straw hat passions in Chicago in a ploy to generate profits from hat advertisements.  And he wasn't alone.  “Straw hat day” was a widely practiced, annual form of mass hysteria in which men were publicly shamed or involuntarily forced to abandon their summer straw hats (or white hats) on a date-certain, usually sometime in September.   “Straw hat day,” or “white hat day,” may have been the model or inspiration for the now-familiar fashion dictum that one should “only wear white between Memorial Day and Labor Day.” 

Although there are legitimate, rational reasons that would naturally lead people to prefer lighter, more reflective color in summer time and despite the fact that it would be natural for hatters to tailor an ad campaign to take advantage of the fact, Hearst may have taken things too far.  He claimed that Mayor Thompson himself had ordered an end to straw hat season – the mayor said he had done no such thing:

And We’re Going to Stick to Light Underwear, Too

Hearst’s Chicago Examiner needs money. Things haven’t been falling right for the morning link in William Randolph’s chain of newspapers.  So the Examiner is anxious to please the advertisers.

Every year for some time the Examiner, just about the first of September, has started a “can the lid” campaign.  The big idea is to throw away, break or burn the straw hat that cost you a couple of dollars a month or so ago. . . .

Every year the mayor has been asked to proclaim “Fall Hat Day,” when you were supposed to grasp the spirit and cast off your old top piece.  This year as usual, the Examiner asked Mayor Thompson to proclaim the end of the straw hat season.

Then the Examiner got bumped.  Mayor Thompson refused to fall for the advertising bunk.  Chicago will have no fall hat day this year, he announced.

“Let the people wear their straw hats as long as they want to,” the mayor told a reporter for the Examiner.  “We have an unusually warm September and there is no reason in the world that straw hats, lighter and cooler than the fall stuff, cannot stay with us.

“As long as the straw hats are comfortable I won’t try, by molding public opinion, to force people to buy new ones.”

The Day Book (Chicago, Illinois), September 21, 1915, page 28.

Mayor Busse had fought a similar battle five years earlier:

No one seems to remember just when the order against the wearing of straw or light colored headgear by men after August 31 was issued.  No one remembers what lord high chamberlain in the court of fashion first recommended the idea or went round the country exhorting a strict observance of the edict.[i]

“I shall not issue any such proclamation, and, what’s more, I never did issue any such proclamation,” was the mayor’s statement.[ii]

Pensacola Journal (Florida), August 29, 1921, page 6.
Whereas in Chicago the mayor disclaimed any association with the rule, other mayors openly meddled in hat fashion.  Omaha’s mayor reportedly extended the end of straw hat season in 1913.  Reports of the extension suggested that people on the streets would otherwise have enforced the ban with vigilante action:

With no fear of assault or battery Omahans may wear their old straw lids for fifteen days after the first of September, for Acting Mayor Dan B. Butler . . . has proclaimed an extension of the straw hat season.

Omaha Bee (Omaha, Nebraska), August 30, 1913, page 12.

The strict enforcement of the end of straw hat (sometimes “white hat”) season dates to 1870 and started, curiously enough, on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. 

These long-standing, well known and widely practiced seasonal straw and white hat-specific rules pre-date the earliest evidence of general rules governing the wearing of white by several decades.  Moreover, some of the earliest references to the newer, more general seasonal clothing rules refer back to the straw hat laws.  It therefore seems plausible, if not likely, that the straw hat rules inspired or served as a model for the later, general restrictions about wearing white.  

South Bend News-Times (Indiana), September 1, 1922, page 11.

White Wearing Rules

The fashion dictum that “you can only wear white between Memorial Day and Labor Day” is firmly entrenched in American pop-culture.  But its origins remain dark and murky. 

Some sources speculate that it reflects practical seasonal factors like temperature and cleanliness.  Others suggest more trivial origins among fashion editors or high-society arbiters of good taste and class distinction.  But whatever its origin, it is generally believed to have developed sometime during the early 1900s.  [Dan Fallon, writing on, provided a good summary of the various opinions and understandings of the possible origin of why we don’t wear white after Labor Day.[iii]]

But despite the widespread belief of its long history, the earliest unambiguous reference to the rule in its current formulation, that I could find, dates to just the early 1960s. 

White jackets, traditionally, are worn only from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

The Akron Beacon Journal, July 19, 1964, Sunday Roto Magazine, page 2.

But that’s not to say there were no precursors. 

There were numerous references in the 1940s through the 1960s, for example, about the impropriety of wearing white shoes after Labor Day.

There were also isolated references to the inappropriateness of wearing white clothing after Labor Day, or conversely the appropriateness of wearing it after Memorial Day.

It is in better taste not to wear white after Labor Day.

The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 17, 1947, page 18.

If the wedding is after Memorial Day, the men could wear white linen suits or dark coats and flannel trousers . . . .

Detroit Free Press, May 20, 1940, page 9.

Ther were also oblique allusions to the possible existence of a rigid rule, even if it did not appear in print in so many words (note: “Decoration Day” is an outdated name for “Memorial Day):

The Evening Journal (Wilmington, Delaware), May 26, 1925, page 10.

Honey of a coat you’ll wear from Decoration Day through Labor Day.

Detroit Free Press, May 22, 1946, page 10.

But for all of the tepid statements of the rule, there does not appear to be much (if any) evidence that the “traditional” rule-of-thumb to “wear white from Memorial Day through Labor Day” was ever a hard-fast rule before the 1960s.

A popular advice columnist favored practicality over rigidity:

Dear Martha Carr:
. . . Is it too late to wear white shoes on the hayride?

. . . You can judge by the weather whether or not to wear white shoes (but not your best ones that could be spoiled by dust and weeds and grass).

St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri), September 11, 1933, page 26.

A 1925 advertisement for light-colored hats suggests that some people may have viewed Decoration Day as at least an informal deadline for transitioning from dark to light clothing:

After Decoration day everyone begins to wear light clothes, and for this reason Ann, of the Hudson Building . . . has made up many light hats in the past week in both the sport and dressy styles, and her prices are very modest.

Hartford Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), May 31, 1925, page 4.

But when Emily Post published her first book of Etiquette in 1922, she devoted more than thirty pages to proper dress without once mentioning seasonal rules for wearing white.  She did, however, criticize “the sheep” who slavishly follow fashion rules to the letter:

Less numerous, but far more conspicuous, are the dressed-to-the-minute women who, like sheep exactly, follow every turn of latest fashion blindly and without the slightest sense of distance or direction.  As each new season’s fashion is defined, all the sheep run and dress themselves each in a replica of the other, their own types and personalities have nothing to do with the case.

Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, New York, Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1922, page 541.

There were, however, several strict seasonal fashion rules that found widespread acceptance.  During the 1910s, for example, there was a widely reported rule against wearing low-cut shoes after September 30.  The 1910s also brought the earliest suggestions of banning white shoes after September-something-or-other.

And the granddaddy of all strictly enforceable seasonal fashion rules, “White Hat Day” or “Straw Hat Day,” reigned for more than five decades, enforced by peer pressure and, at times, mayoral decree, direct action and mob rule.  It may also be the inspiration, forerunner or model for all of the later seasonal wear-white rules and the ultimate origin of the now-familiar dictum to “only wear white from Memorial Day to Labor Day.”

White Hat Day

Long before strict seasonal rules emerged, white hat season evolved naturally as a rational response to warm weather.  White hats were more reflective and straw hats provided cooling air circulation. 

. . . scientists claim we should wear pure white in summer and black in winter.

The Corvallis Gazette (Corvallis, Oregon), November 16, 1883, page 3.

Hat dealers were nobody’s fools, and tailored their advertising to take advantage of the trend.  Seasonal hat advertisements from the mid-1800s suggest that there was no hard-fast rule or drop-dead date.

In Washington DC, one hatter encouraged the switch from white hats to dark hats in early October:

HATS of every material in the new autumnal style, in the minutest particular according with the prevailing mode, can be obtained at “TODD’S.”

The season permitting white hats, Panamas, and Leghorns to be laid aside, gentlemen are invited to examine a new collection of my manufacture . . . .

The Daily Union (Washington DC), October 7, 1846, page 2.

In New York City, the white hat season seems to have run generally from early-June through late-September, but not with any specificity.  In 1853, white hats were “on the wane” in the second week of September:

White hats are on the wane.  The fur looks grey and dusty, the trimmings exhibit the effects of wear and weather, and the crowns give evidence of contact with omnibus tops and low door ways.  Poor whity!  The title of somber hue is about to exercise the supremacy.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (New York), September 10, 1853, page 3.

Raftsman’s Journal (Clearfield, Pennsylvania), October 31, 1855, page 3.

In 1856, a dealer opened straw hat season by June 7:

Opening of the Straw Hat Season. – Genin opens the Straw Hat Season for 1856 with a stock which, in extent, variety and beauty cannot be paralleled in New York.  Besides the East India Hat, confined exclusively to this establishment, the assortment includes Luteve, Leghorns, Panama, Canton, English brilliants, brown and white Sennets and many other besides.

New-York Tribune, June 7, 1856, page 6.

Unseasonably warm weather forced an early onset of white hat season in New York City in 1859:

The Weather. – The weather is certainly rushing the season; it is warm enough for the dog-days. . . .

White hats, rosebuds, and beer gardens have been prematurely developed, and the early run on the ice crop threatens a scarcity at the latter end of the season.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 9, 1859, page 11.

White hat season came to an end by October of the same year:

All white hats are respectfully requested to disappear.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 1, 1859, page 3.

A decade later, white hat season still ran into late August.  Brokers at the New York Stock Exchange, for example, were still wearing white hats when the market collapsed on “Black Friday,” September 24, 1869:

Before 8 a.m., both Broad and New streets were filled with outside operators.  They seemed to snuff the approaching battle in the air.  Their white hats, with mourning bands, seemed to shake with excitement, and they shook their little books in the air as if confident of winning a fortune in no time.  Every one had his own little rumor, and industriously circulated it among his friends. “Gold, gold,” this was all the talk.

Daily Kansas Tribune (Lawrence, Kansas), September 29 1869, page 1.

It did not end well.  It was a bloodbath.  Stock prices dropped by 20 percent from September 24 to October 1. 

One year later, almost to the day, white hats in the Stock Exchange and Gold Room experienced a different kind of “bloodbath”: 

Gold never went up in more lively style than did those hats, and never came down with such destruction, even on “black Friday.”

Charleston Daily News (South Carolina), October 1, 1870, page 2.

It all started with a widely ignored notice posted September 21, 1870:

Notice. – All white hats found in the Board Room after the 25th of September will be considered contraband of war, and will be treated accordingly.

Signed by the Sub-Committee
Sept. 21, 1870.

On Monday, September 26, 1870, “when Trinity clock struck 3,”[iv] the order went into effect.  There is no suggestion of collusion with the hatters, but they profited nonetheless, as did the junk dealers who scooped up old hats for a song:

Order Against White Hats.

In fact everybody who entered the Board with [a white hat] was surprised by having it mashed over his eyes or knocked on the floor to be danced about by the enforcers of the law, and by two- o’clock Broad street was crowded with junk cartmen, who sent in a delegation to “bear” the hat market, and succeeded admirably.  In a short time white hats became at a discount.  Unlucky men who had them and who managed to escape the onslaught of canes, apples, pears, peaches and everything that could make a decent white hat lose its proper equilibrium made tracks for the nearest hat store, where he supplied himself with one of a dark and mournful color. . . .

Resistance to the flanking movements were found to be useless, and when the battle closed late in the day not a white hat was to be seen on all the field, and high above the plaints of the wounded who had parted with their summer head tops against their will, rose the shouts of victory and the glorious strains of the glorious chant of “When this old hat was new.”  For once in a lifetime bull and bear brokers had combined to bull the hat market, for which the hatters will doubtless sing psalms of praise for a year to come.

New York Herald, September 27, 1870, page 12.

But even with strict enforcement at the end of the season, I have seen no similar enforcement at the start of the season, in New York or elsewhere.  In 1872, for example, white hat season started early, with no fanfare, in South Carolina:

The Newberry Herald (Newberry, South Carolina), May 29, 1872, page 1.

In New York City, the powers-that-be at the Stock Exchanged pushed the end of the season back to September 30:

In accordance with the annual custom of the “regulations” of the Stock Exchange the wearing of white hats is forbidden in that institution after Monday next. . . .  The public who desire to witness the proceedings will find an excellent standpoint in the gallery of the Stock Exchange, entrance on Wall street.  Meantime the official announcement has been printed and publicly posted throughout the Board and over the street, as follows: 

is hereby given that white hats are called in on and after Monday, September 30.  Any white hat appearing in the New York Stock Exchange on or after the above date will be confiscated. By order of the REGULATORS.

New York Herald, September 24, 1872, page 5.

Several months later, the events of the day were published in a magazine with a national circulation and widely reprinted across the country:


On one of the last days in September we were the astonished recipients of a singular and mysterious invitation from a member of the New York Board of Brokers.  The note contained words like these: “Come to the Exchange on Monday, September 30th: white hats are declared confiscated on that day.”

. . . The fun grew fast and furious, the air was literally darkened with flying hats of every shape and size, but all white.  The stout tall beavers were converted into footballs till their crowns were kicked out and their brims torn off, when they were seized upon as instruments for further torture.

Lippincott’s Magazine, Volume 11, Number 1, January 1873, page 118.

“White Hat Day” at the Exchange received widespread attention again in 1877, although this time it started at 1 pm on September 19:

Some Tall Fun on the New York Stock Exchange.

Wednesday was “white hat day” on the New York Stock Exchange. . . . .  Late in the afternoon at least one-third of the brokers doing business on the floor were bareheaded, and dozens of crushed white hats were whirling in the air or ornamenting the gas brackets.  Straw hats were treated even in a worse manner.  They were torn apart in many instances, and the floor was strewn with the fragments.  A favorite trick was to approach an unconscious, bareheaded broker from behind and pull a dilapidated white tile down over his face and ears.  His frantic efforts to dislodge it were hindered by hundreds of willing hands. . . .

The neighboring hatters drove a brisk trade that evening.

Buffalo Daily Dispatch and Evening Post (Buffalo, New York), September 21, 1877, page 2.

In 1883, “White Hat Day” was moved up to noon on September 14, and this time, apparently for the first time, light summer jackets were subject to the same ban.  Violators were stripped of their coat and subsequently fined for being sleeveless on the floor:


Several brokers went upon the floor of the New-York Stock Exchange yesterday with light colored hats upon their heads, forgetful of the fact that such Summer-like head-gear is not to be tolerated by the gentle “bulls” and “bears” after Sept. 14. . . .

A mock proclamation was posted on Friday announcing that “Summer hats and coats must go,” and the oil brokers, who posted the proclamation, made it their business during yesterday forenoon to see that all white hats and alpaca and linen coats found on the floor of the Exchange were rendered unfit for future use.  The jollity of the occasion was enhanced by the promptness with which Chairman Peters fined such members as had their coats torn off for appearing in the Exchange in their shirt sleeves.  The fine in each instance was $5.

New York Times, September 16, 1883, page 10.

And these were the Captains of Industry who stoked progress in the Gilded Age – unbelievable.

New York was not the only place to have a “straw hat season” during this period:

It’s getting to be toward fall, now, and the straw hat season is about done for.

Des Moines Register, August 26, 1871, page 4.

And the New York Stock Exchange was not the only exchange with a “White Hat Day.”  When the members of the Minnesota state legislature engaged in a number of “mirthful pranks” and “practical jokes” on the final day of its session in 1885, it “reminded one of ‘white hat day’ in the Chicago board of trade.’”[v]

The notion of a strictly enforceable drop-dead date received wide acceptance by 1884.  The date was another new one, but it was still in September:

Au Revoir, White Hat.

One of the laws that custom has made, in regulating the waring apparel as the seasons come and go, is the rule that all white hats, straw, felt or cloth, must be laid aside on September 15th of each year.  This rule first prevailed in the stock exchange, New York, years ago, and has now become general throughout the country.  Gentlemen of taste, and those who make no pretensions to style, have gradually recognized the custom, thinking, perhaps, that as the white tile must be laid aside at some time during the autumn, it might just as well disappear on a fixed day as any other.

Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), September 15, 1884, page 7.

But with the rule taking on the weight of tradition and custom elsewhere, it was growing wearisome (at least in warm weather) at its place of origin:

“This is White hat day, but the celebration is a failure,” said Mr. Charles Deacon, the assistant custodian of the Stock Exchange, this afternoon, as he removed his straw head gear and mopped his perspiring brow with an ample pocket handkerchief. 

“The weather is so warm,” he added, “that many of the brokers have concluded to wear their summer hats for a while longer.  A few white tiles were smashed to-day, but the fun did not amount to anything to speak of.  I guess the genuine, old-fashioned circus will be postponed until the 20th inst.  In former years the 20th was the orthodox date for calling in the white hats, but latterly the brokers have become somewhat mixed in their ideas as to the proper date.  Some think it should be the 15th, others the 20th, and a few claim that black hats need not be donned until the 25th.”

A few white hats were destroyed to-day in the Produce Exchange.

Philadelphia Inquirer, September 15, 1885, page 7.

But despite some people being bored by the whole business in 1885, they were still going through the motions on September 14, 1895:

The American Hatter, Volume 24, Number 2, September 1894, page 83.
And as “white hat day” became more widespread and ritualized, it attracted the attention of joke writers:
Puck, Volume 15, Number 377, May 28, 1884, page 212.
The Philadelphia Inquirer (Pennsylvania), August 4, 1885, page 3.

Eventually, the rule took the force of “law” and took on a life of its own.

St. Louis Star and Times (Missouri), May 29, 1914, page 4.

Straw Hat Law

Goodbye, old hat, you’ve served me well,
   Through weather wet and dry,
But now I lay you on the shelf,
   Good bye, old hat, good bye.
The time for straw is past; to get
   A felt hat I must try,
You’re battered, old and grimy now,
But just the same, good bye!

Today marks the passing of the straw hat for the year of our Lord, 1897. . . .

Just why September 1 should be the time when the straw hat ceases to be, and the felt hat resumes its sway, it would be hard to say.  There are warm days in September; as a usual thing very warm ones, in fact. . . .  Yet there is an unwritten law, as binding as once were the edicts of the Medes and the Persians, that compels he who would be correct in dress to discard the light, becoming and often still good straw hat for the hot and uncomfortable silk or felt. . . .

In some cities straw hat day is a regular institution, and it is celebrated with much éclat.  On change in New York the straw hat law is rigidly enforced, and woe betide the man who forgets that the time has come to make a change in his head covering. . . .

Even in Springfield this day is observed to a limited extent.  At one of the packing houses a notice is posted that all wearers of straw hats after today will be asked to contribute to the beer fund. . . .

What becomes of all the straw hats?  That is an unsolved mystery.

The Leader-Democrat (Springfield, Missouri), September 1, 1897, page 3.

What becomes of all the straw hats, indeed? 

Spokane Press (Spokane, Washington), August 24, 1906, page 4.
Disposition varied by location.  Most people likely just threw them away or put them into storage, while others (perhaps people with connections to the hat business) staged elaborate ceremonies.

They burned them in New Orleans:

A curious custom prevails in New Orleans by which the end of the straw hat season is marked by elaborate and impressive ceremonies  This year a mysterious personage, known as “General Anthony Sambola,” fixed October 11th as the date after which summer headgear was illegal, improper and contraband of war, and on that day in many parts of the city huge piles of hats were burned in the streets, after more or less prominent citizens had made orations over them.

The Press-Visitor (Raleigh, North Carolina), October 22, 1896, page 2.

And fed them to the elephants in New York City:

The Morning News (Wilmington, Delaware), September 19, 1925, page 14.
A lucky horse might get to eat a hat:
The Kingston Daily Freeman (Kingston, New York), August 31, 1954, page 8.

Organized Resistance

But not everyone was onboard with the program.  A group styling itself the “Autumnal Straw Hat Association” routinely received widespread notice in the papers every year from 1895 through 1898 – although even their resistance was conditional on warm weather:

A unique organization called the Autumnal Straw Hat Association has just been formed in Boston.  Its object is to persuade men to wear straw hats after September 15, provided the temperature makes it justifiable.

The Indianapolis News (Indiana), September 14, 1895, page 4.

In Davenport Iowa, the editors encouraged open rebellion – as long as the warm weather held out:

It may be that strict allegiance to the fashion of the day does not allow us to wear straw hats after Sept. 1, but as long as the mercury insists on staying away up in the air in the manner of today suffering humanity may be forgiven for being a little headstrong.

Quad-City Times, September 4, 1901, page 4.

Resistance was necessary too.  In many places, the straw hat laws were physically enforced by random strangers and mobs.
Nearly every straw hat wearer on Market street until late last night was followed by a throng of youngsters ringing bells and banging tin pans.  It was their manner of ringing out the venerable summer straw hat.  That they succeeded will be attested this morning by the decrease in number of straws.

The Morning News (Wilmington, Delaware), September 16, 1909, page 1.

Enforcement was not always merely annoying.  Sometimes it involved assault, battery and the destruction of personal property; and the police were sometimes complicit.

The conduct of policemen during the straw hat riot in East Liberty, the night of September 15, is to be investigated by the police trial board. . . .

That policemen did not make proper efforts to quell the riot and in some instances refused to interfere to protect straw hats and their owners was the assertion made to the mayor by the committee. . . .

“It is openly asserted in the East End that policemen did nothing to stop the riot or protect persons wearing straw hats who were assaulted.  We asked the mayor to make an investigation and he has agreed to do so.  We feel that every citizen has a right to full protection from such assaults on a public thoroughfare.”

The Pittsburgh Press, September 22, 1910, page 1.

Eventually, cooler heads prevailed (see what I did there?) as courts and public opinion began to turn against the hat fashion fascists:

 Magistrates Coward and Briggs failed to see the humor of smashing straw hats, when thirty-five boys and young men were brought before them yesterday morning on charges of destroying summer headgear of pedestrians along Broad street between Snyder and Washington avenues on the previous evening.
 . . . 

“A man is entitled to wear a straw hat up until Christmas if he feels so inclined,” declared Magistrate Briggs.  “I tried to find out who originated the straw hat smashing idea, but there is nothing in the encyclopedia about it.”

Philadelphia Inquirer, September 17, 1912, page 2.

The Chicago Tribune’s cartoon-Supreme Court was two years ahead of the actual Philadelphia court system, having reached a similar result two years earlier when its editors believed the Chicago Examiner’s fake-news reports about the mayor’s supposed hat decree:

Appeal from the decision of the Mayor of the City of Chicago that straw hats shall be strung upon a hook from the first day of September, 1910, until otherwise ordered to be removed therefrom.

Opinion by the Chief Justice to Be Appointed.

. . . There can be no question in the mind of any person that if we are by nature “free and independent,” we can wear such headgear as to us may seem meet and proper so long as in the use of that headgear we do not cause injury to others. . . .

The Court has no hesitancy in directing that the order of the Honorable Mayor of the City of Chicago be set aside and held for naught, and that the Straw hat may be continued in free and unrestricted use at the will of its owner.

P. S. – Weather permitting.

Chicago Tribune, September 2, 1910, page 1.

White Shoes/White Clothes

With sanity gradually returning to the “straw hat law,” variations of the law were increasingly imposed on other articles of clothing:

Straw hats and white trousers receive the taboo today according to the statement of men who ought to know.  Help restore law and order in the land and do your duty as an honored citizen by placing your straw head piece in the cedar bow with your wife’s spring bonnet, and if you have not a wife just throw the straw lid away, for then you will be financially able to buy a new one next year.

Muncie Evening Press, September 1, 1910, page 4.

It is not clear whether the new restrictions had been around for awhile without much notice in the press, or whether they were created in imitation of the well-established straw hat rules.  The difficulty in finding significant numbers of earlier examples despite the longstanding commentary about the hat rules, however, may suggest that the white clothing rules were made in imitation of the earlier white hat rule; encouraged, perhaps, by shoemakers and tailors looking for a similar, annual seasonal bump in sales.

There appears to have been some general fashion rules related to shoe color or tone as early as 1893, when an economic downturn prompted Oliver Sumner Teall, president of a company that helped people reduce their living expenses, to advocate for an easing of the rule:

What families need this year is to have last winter’s modes of garb hold over, so that women who were careful of their last year’s clothes can wear them out without obloquy or reproach.

And so in a less degree with men.  Tan shoes in good repair should be permitted this year all winter long; and the usual law which forbids straw hats after September might well be abrogated.

Harper’s Weekly, Volume 37, page 879.

Date-specific guidelines similar to the straw hat law cropped up in the early 1900s:

It is as bad taste for girls to wear white shoes after September 1 as it is for boys to wear straw hats.

Brown County World (Hiawatha, Kansas), September 29, 1905, page 16.

Warm weather that extended the deadline for straw had the same effect on women’s clothing:

Some of the straw lids are still on.

The woman in white has a new lease on life.

The straw hat law has been amended by nature.

The Wilkes-Barre News, September 23, 1905, page 4.

Why doesn’t Congress pass a law forbidding the wearing of white canvas shoes after September 1?

The Ottawa Daily Republic (Ottawa, Kansas), October 9, 1906, page 5.

A comment in a humorous essay in 1911 suggests that a prohibition against women’s shoes was new.   The same article suggested that white shoes themselves were a new trend, and the date, September 15, may have been chosen in imitation of one of the traditional straw hat days:

“By the way, fair womankind gets the Sept. 15 gate this year on one item.  Didn’t know about it?  Sure, the Hon. J. J. Coughlin, alderman of the First ward, whose poetic nom de plume is Natatorium John, has ordered it.  He says that after next Tuesday all the women and girls will have to lay aside the snow scows, sometimes known as white shoes.”

Chicago Tribune, September 10, 1911, page 1.

White shoes were apparently also relatively new in Asheville, North Carolina in 1912, at least new enough that no standard seasonal rule had been adopted.  A well-meaning busy-body aimed to change things – if not for fashion’s sake, at least in the name of quack-medicine; why not? – they had done it in Charlotte:

Taboo in Charlotte

The man who was expression his convictions earnestly declared that the time has come when Asheville should put a ban on the white shoe wearer, at this time of the year.  “Charlotte has made things uncomfortable for those who persist in wearing these kind of shoes, and Charlotte is progressive on this point,” he remarked.  He remarked that white shoes were manufactured for summer use and should not be worn throughout the winter, on account of the fact that they chill the pavement and make a girl’s feet look three sizes larger than they really are.

Asheville Citizen (North Carolina), January 22, 1912, page 2.

Fashions were changing for men, as well, spurred in part by a new President and possibly by technological advances in clothing and laundry.

It was the first hot week in July that the president of the United States first appeared in white.  One Tuesday morning when the thermometer was up about the nineties President Wilson walked from the White House to his office.  He was dressed in a pair of white canvas shoes with flat rubber soles, white duck trousers, a white crash coat, white shirt, white tie and a white straw hat.  The next day three of the cabinet officers . . . appeared in white or light brown, almost white.

. . . Now all the men in Washington wear either white suits or white trousers and darker coats, but it all is light weight material.

Escanaba Morning Press (Michigan), September 17, 1913, page 6.

Many women choose to wear white in the house all winter long.  The white waist, after September 1, however, usually denotes an informal costume, the dressy blouse being of silk or chiffon in a color matching, or contrasting strikingly with the skirt.  The one exception to this rule is the white lace or chiffon blouse which often accompanies the dark tailleur at the matinee or restaurant meal.

The Lakeland Evening Telegram, September 28, 1914, page 3.

Low Shoes

A similar seasonal deadline for switching from low shoes to high shoes emerged in the 1910s:
Not content with assuming a dictatorial attitude over whether a man may wear a straw hat or not after September 15, fashion has now come forward with the dictum that low shoes must go next week, and to be properly shod men as well as women must appear in high shoes. So the shoe merchants are preparing their stocks to the best advantage and anticipating a big influx of business next week, when low shoes will go out of style.

The Evening Journal (Wilmington, Delaware), September 20, 1916, page 7.
An early example of the rule suggested differential treatment for men and women – doesn’t’ seem fair, does it?

The same fashion authority that chases in men’s low shoes after September 20, allows women to wear oxfords and pumps till the cows come home.

The Marion Star (Marion, Ohio), October 13, 1913, page 6.

Gender equity quickly followed – to sell more shoes, I guess:

The Washington Post (District of Columbia), 26 September, 1914, page 9.

The Start of Straw Hat Season

Chicago Tribune, May 13, 1915, page 7.

The opening of straw hat season generally seems to have passed with less fanfare.  There were increased advertisements for straw hats, but less indication of a widely followed specific opening date or the existence of vigilante mobs.  It seems to have started anywhere from early May to June 1.

One report suggested that Memorial Day was the traditional start date in and around Philadelphia, although that was later pushed back to coincide with the annual Penn-Princeton baseball game held the first Saturday of May.

Within a radius of 35 miles of Philadelphia “Straw Hat Day” is a movable feast which is down in the calendar as the first Saturday in May, because on that day the baseball team of the University of Pennsylvania indulges in its annual swat fest with Princeton.
A decade ago no mere man thought of sporting a straw hat in these parts until at least the middle of May and usually it was Memorial Day before the hay lids blossomed in really large numbers.

The News Journal (Wilmington, Delaware), May 6, 1916, page 6.

Evening Public Ledger (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), May 1, 1915, page 13.

The Sandusky Star-Journal (Ohio), May 25, 1917, page 4.


Seasonal shifts from light to dark clothing seem rooted in rational responses to the weather and environmental conditions.  Light hats, shoes and clothing tend to reflect more heat, making them more comfortable in summer.  Light clothing tends to get dirtier during cold, muddy weather and might have picked up more soot or smoke as more ovens, stoves and heaters burned more oil, coal or wood.  Hat, shoe, and clothing vendors would rationally take advantage of those seasonal changes to encourage customers to spend more money. 

Changes in wardrobe might have been even more noticeable among the wealthier classes, if for no other reason than they would be able to afford a larger wardrobe.  Wealthy people, or people eager to be seen as wealthy, may have emphasized the seasonal change to separate themselves, actually or apparently, from the lower classes.  Coincidentally, Memorial Day and Labor Day bracket the warmer season across many latitudes in the United States, acting as natural dates to mark the changes of the season.

 But despite the rational factors, there is no evidence of any sort of hard-fast rule or drop-dead date until the “White Hat Day” riots on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.  Within a decade and a half of the first “White Hat Day,” its widespread notoriety spawned nearly universal adoption of the practice across the United States.  Hat dealers, who had long understood seasonal advertising, latched onto the new trend to boost sales.  Newspaper editors looking to profit from that advertising encouraged the practice, firmly entrenching the practice in American pop-culture.  Similar rules were later applied to white shoes, low shoes, white jackets and white clothing, generally.

The end of hat-wearing culture, however, erased “White Hat Day” and “Straw Hat Season” from our collective memory.  But vestiges of it linger in the general awareness of a “traditional” rule that we should only wear white between Memorial Day and Labor Day. 

[i] The Inter-Ocean (Chicago, Illinois), September 2, 1910, page 12.
[ii] Deseret Evening News (Salt Lake City, Utah), August 30, 1910, page 1.
[iii] Dan Fallon, “Wear White After Labor Day?”, .
[iv] Charleston Daily News (South Carolina), October 1, 1870, page 2.
[v] Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota), March 7, 1885, page 4.

Updated May 6, 2019, to add reference to wearing lighter clothes after Decoration day. Hartford Courant, May 31, 1925, page 4.

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