Guidelines for Wearing White

There’s something cool and refreshing about white clothing that makes it chic on even the hottest days.  Since it reflects light and absorbs perspiration, making it less noticeable than on other colors, the wearer looks cool and collected, even when the temperature soars.  Small wonder then that white has been a long-time favorite of residents of hot, tropical climates.

Now that Memorial Day has come and gone in the United States, marking the unofficial launch of Summer, the “white wearing” season is underway.  So is the seasonal barrage of questions I get regarding how and when to wear white.  Since the “rules” for wearing white have changed a bit in recent years, let’s take a few minutes to review the current guidelines for wearing white:


“Does the ‘wear white only between Memorial Day and Labor Day’ rule still apply?”

While white tops are year ’round staples, white skirts, pants, jackets, and shoes have generally been limited to summer.  “Not before Memorial Day and not after Labor Day” has been the rule of thumb for generations.

But is that still the case?

For many traditionalists, it is.  For more fashion-forward people, it isn’t.  Designers have been creating white winter wear for the last couple of seasons, bringing the warm-weather favorite out into the cold.

So what should YOU do?

It depends on your situation.

If you work in a traditional business, like accounting, banking, law, etc., and typically socialize with people from this same background, use the traditional Memorial Day/Labor Day guidelines for dressing when you’re around these folks.  YOU may be fashion-forward, showing up to
work in white wool in October, but those around you probably aren’t and won’t appreciate your fashion sense.  They’ll assume you don’t know how to dress for business.

If you regularly work or socialize with a more fashion-forward crowd, on the other hand, wear white if you want, whenever you want, keeping fabrics in line with the season.  Those around you will marvel at your fashion savvy.


“I heard that if you have large hips, you shouldn’t wear white from the waist down.”

Not true.

Since light colors (including white) visually enlarge while dark colors visually diminish, it’s true that white will make you look bigger, wherever you wear it. But it doesn’t mean that you have to skip it entirely.  Instead, keep these simple camouflage techniques in mind:


1.  Opt for a monochromatic look (all one color) to appear slimmer and taller.

2.  Look for construction details or accessories that create a vertical line on the white, like a long jacket or duster, a long strand of beads, a long scarf, or a flattering, diagonal belt with a long chain or fringe.  Verticals draw the eyes up and down instead of from side-to-side.

3.  Create a focal point elsewhere on your body to draw attention away from your trouble spot.

Examples:  a fabulous hat, a large, eye-catching necklace or scarf, or a pair of knock-’em-dead shoes.


1.  Put a contrasting color at or near the area you’re trying to disguise, like a dark shirt tucked into a waistband, or a darker shirt or jacket that falls to your hips. It will call attention to the area, not detract from it.

2.  Wear styles with embellishments that call extra attention to your trouble spots, like pockets, embroidery, zippers, etc.

If your clothes fit properly and you use these simple diversion tactics, there’s no reason to avoid white, whatever your figure challenge.


“My friend told me that you should never wear white shoes, unless they’re sandals.”

Again, not true.

To repeat, since white visually enlarges, wearing all-white shoes will make your feet look bigger.  Not a big deal, unless you don’t like the size of your feet.

White shoes often complete a summer ensemble, making the whole look crisp and pulled-together. Still, if you don’t want to fully encase your feet in white pumps, flats, or espadrilles, try:


keeping the formality of the shoes in line with the rest of your outfit.

Want to look really tall in a white monochromatic ensemble WITHOUT calling attention to your feet? Wear flesh-colored shoes instead.


“If I’m dressing in all white, should I also wear white hose?”

In my opinion, no.

White legwear is appropriate for nurses, brides, and girls under five.  It just doesn’t do much for anyone else.

Yes, white and very light hose were the rage twenty- five years ago when Diana, the late Princess of Wales wore them.  While the look did precisely what she wanted it to do – visually “chop up” her appearance to make her look shorter than her prince – it didn’t fair as well on shorter copy cats around the world.  For most, it simply made their legs look bigger.

So what should you wear instead of white hose, if your lifestyle still calls for hosiery in the summer?

Depending on your skin tone, try sheer hosiery in:

Light beige
Pearl Gray

P.S.  If you’re wearing Spectator or Chanel pumps, match your hosiery to the lighter rather than darker color.


So what other things should you keep in mind when wearing white?

1.  Always wear flesh colored undergarments under white clothes.  If you wear white bras, panties, slips, or camisoles, the outline will show underneath your clothes.

2.  Don’t wear all-white to a wedding, unless you’re the bride or a member of the bridal party. A white blouse under another color suit is okay, but the tradition still holds firm:  white is reserved for the bridal party.

3.  If white makes you look pale or “just isn’t your color,” try off-white instead.  Pure whites look best on skin with blue undertones, off-whites look best on skin with yellow undertones.

So what’s the bottom line here?

White can be an elegant staple in your wardrobe, whatever your shape.  Just remember that it visually enlarges whatever it’s against, so choose clothing and accessories that flatter your shape and enhance your assets.  Don’t avoid white – disguise it! – so you can enjoy its many benefits instead of stumbling on its drawbacks.

Looking for some other ways to embellish your basic whites?  Download a copy of Accessory Magic to learn how to use fashion accessories stretch your budget and create a signature look.

Accessory Magic

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