Style / December 2019

How to Wear White in Winter

Forget the hoary old edict proclaiming ‘No white after Labor Day’. Here’s how to bring a little brilliance into your winter wardrobe.

Author Tom Wolfe at the Hay literary festival in Hay on Wye. (Photo by Andrew Fox/Alamy).

Author Tom Wolfe was famous for wearing head-to-toe white year-round. The origin story goes that when Wolfe moved to New York in 1962, the young writer only possessed a couple of sports coats and odd trousers. Starting his new job at the Herald Tribune, he soon learnt that reporters were expected to wear a suit. As it was summertime, Wolfe chose to acquire the sort of white ensemble habitually worn during the warmer months by gentlemen in his native Richmond, Virginia. As autumn leaves fell, he discovered that the cloth was heavy enough to carry on wearing the white suit into winter. He did just that — partly because as a struggling journalist, he couldn’t afford another visit to the tailor — and fell into a lifelong habit.

Now, no one’s suggesting you follow Wolfe’s example. But the American ban on white after Labor Day — which falls the first Monday in September — is just as nonsensical as the great nation’s failed prohibition on booze. (That being said, those fond of white garments are advised to avoid cabernet and Campari.) Winter whites can work wonderfully. It’s merely a matter of employing snow-tones with care.

Contrary to Wolfe’s poverty-driven example, the wearing of light colours was originally a symbol of wealth — a century and more ago, only the affluent had enough clothing that they could change when an item became dirty, handing the offending garment off to a servant for laundering. With perhaps just one or two outfits to their names, and scant access to washing facilities, the poor had to wear dark colours that camouflaged workaday muck. Sartorial aficionado Alexander Kraft, CEO of Sotheby’s International Realty France-Monaco, takes an old-school aristocratic approach to the matter of white in winter. “My personal mantra is to always wear white no matter what the weather or the season is,” he says. “The trick is to have a good housekeeper and dry cleaner. A true Rake should not concern himself with such pedestrian considerations as whether he might soil his garments — wear them and be damned, I say!

Tags