Wearing White

Wearing white has been a summer tradition for centuries.

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 temperatures soar.  Small wonder then that white has been a long-time favorite of residents of hot, tropical climates.

Now that summer is here and the “wearing white” season is officially underway in the Northern Hemisphere, I’m getting the usual seasonal questions about how and when to wear white.  Since the “rules” for wearing white have changed over the years, let’s take a few minutes to review the current guidelines for wearing white:

When to Wear White

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

While white cotton blouses and tops are year ’round staples, white skirts, pants, jackets, and shoes have generally been limited to summer.  “No wearing white after Labor Day” has been the rule of thumb for generations.

But is that still the case?

For white cotton and linen dresses, skirts, pants, shorts, etc., yes.

For white wool, crepe, cashmere, and other heavy cool weather fabrics, no.

So you can wear white all year ’round provided it’s in a season-appropriate weight and fabric.

Here’s what that looks like:

Summer White

Cotton, linen, and other warm-weather fabrics in styles that keep you cool, like sleeveless tops, shorts, and Capri pants.  Notice how the accessories also keep you cool, like sandals, flip-flops, and espadrilles.

White Dress


White casual outfit


Winter White

Once temperatures start to dip, it’s time to trade the white cotton and linen for heavier fabrics like corduroy, wool, and cashmere.  These will help you stay warm when it’s cold outside.

White wool dress


White sweater and pants

Year ‘Round White

White button-down shirts and blouses are appropriate all year ’round for business, particularly when paired with a suit, blazer, or other business-appropriate jacket.  White t-shirts are also appropriate year ’round.  Wear short sleeves when it’s warm, long sleeves when it’s cold.

For example:

Crisp Business Attire


Casual Fall Outfit

See how this works?

Once you understand what to wear when, it becomes a snap.



Wearing White Do’s and Don’ts

“I heard that if you have big 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 wearing 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.

Wearing White Do2.  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.

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


Wearing White Don'tDON’T:

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.



Wearing White Shoes

White Pump“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 by wearing white pumps, flats, or espadrilles, try:

  • D’Orsay Pump
  • Slingbacks
  • Sandals

…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.

Other “Rules” For Wearing White

What other things should you keep in mind when wearing white?

Don't wear white to a wedding1.  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?

You can wear white any time of year so long as you match the fabric to the season.

Wear white cotton and linen in summer, white wool, crepe, and cashmere in winter.

So those are the “rules” for wearing white.

Need suggestions for other colors?

Then grab our FREE Clothing Color Chart and start color combining like a pro!




Diana Pemberton-SikesDiana Pemberton is an image coach and author and has helped thousands of women around the world dress better through her ezine and image courses.  Want to know which clothing colors go together?  Grab a copy of our FREE color chart!





The "Rules" of Wearing White



    1 Response to "The “Rules” for Wearing White"

    • Pauline

      Hi Diana, I enjoyed reading your article and have to say I love wearing white especially white shoes in summer. I always wear wedge sandals and find they go well with most of my summer clothes an all colours. Great tips Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Security Code: