Fashion & Style

This season, designers give you carte blanche to wear white after Labor Day

A model presents a creation at the Marc Jacobs Fall/Winter 2012 collection show during New York Fashion Week.

In years past, Sima Blue would never have dreamed of stocking her Green Spring Station boutique with ivory sheath dresses, cream lace blazers and eggshell pleated skirts this late in the season.

But times are changing.

With major designers including Marc Jacobs and Celine showcasing white frocks and accessories for their fall collections, white will not only be accepted after Labor Day this season — it will be considered fashion-forward. The trend starts now and will lead up through more traditional "winter" whites.

"I've never seen as much white as I've been seeing this season," said Blue, as she pointed to a rack filled with pieces from designers such as Milly and Nanette Lepore. "It used to be you put white away after Labor Day and didn't bring it back until Memorial Day, but those days are over. White is like black — you can wear it all year round."

For decades, many Americans have followed the unwritten rule of fashion to steer clear of white after Labor Day. White has been considered a summer color, said Latease T. Lashley, founder of Creatively Speaking, a Baltimore-based public speaking company specializing in fashion commentary. "The rule may have originated from the Victorian echelon under the notion that the color white was ... a status symbol for new members of the upper and middle classes in the late 19th and early 20th century," Lashley said. "But whoever is responsible for this rule, it is clearly dated."

This spring, in shows from New York to Paris, popular designers peppered their coming autumn collections with an array of white, including shades such as ash, eggshell, creme, pearl, bone and bleach. For example, "Project Runway" alum Christian Siriano featured a sheer ivory ball gown skirt and chalk-colored trench-dress. And Chanel's Paris show — helmed by designer Karl Lagerfeld — was highlighted by a military-inspired chalk jacket and flared skirt, a sheer feather-adorned blouse and wide-leg crepe pants.

Celebrities have also been leading the charge — some well before this season.

At February's Oscars, Gwyneth Paltrow turned heads dressed in a white Tom Ford dress with a cape. Two years before, Paltrow wore white during the December screening of her movie"Country Strong" at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

Singer Mary J. Bligeappeared at the American Music Awards in Los Angeles last November with a low-plunging ivory suit. A month later, she arrived at the "VH1 Divas Celebrates Soul" show in New York City in a sparkling, beaded, sleeveless white dress.

And who could forget Michelle Obama at the 2009 inaugural balls in her white chiffon one-shoulder gown adorned with beading and snowy appliques by designer Jason Wu?

"The color white works on most skin types and always reads 'pure, timeless' and always comes across chic if you know how to pull it off," Lashley said. "White is a great transitional color that crosses seasons seamlessly. Break the rules — wear white trousers with a navy blazer or pair white jeans with a jewel tone. Wearing white after Labor Day is like wearing black to a wedding. Everyone is afraid to do it, but you will stand out in a good way if it's done right."

At local boutiques, owners have noticed a recent shift in attitude and acceptance of the white trend.

"You can see it especially with the younger shoppers," Blue said. "People want to be creative and individualistic."

Blue said white has appeared in fall before, but it has mostly been relegated to flannel or crepe pants. Now, she said, it's being shown in September to be worn in September. "It's in dresses," she said. "It's not just in pants. It's in complete pieces."

Jones & Jones, the Cross Keys boutique, has a number of white-hued options this season, including a cream petal dress from Theia and a slick off-white raincoat from Creenstone.

"White is no longer seasonal," said Florence Sokol, owner of Jones & Jones. "It can be worn all year round. It's the new black."

Nancy Lattman, owner of L'Apparenza in the Lake Falls Village shopping center, is expecting a majority of her customers to start purchasing white clothes in the coming weeks.

"Some people already have," she said.

Lattman loves that designers have offered a number of what she considers "stunning" pieces this season. Her favorites? A Theory pants suit in pearl, anAlice +Oliviawhite leather laser-cut sleeveless dress and a cream and metallic gold sheath dress also from Alice + Olivia.

But one note of caution before you pull on those white cotton pants: Just because it's white doesn't necessarily mean its right for the season, said Karen Ciurca-Weiner, buyer and manager at Jones & Jones. Ciurca-Weiner warns fashionistas about the type of fabrics they purchase during the colder months.

"It should be a fall fabric — and weather-appropriate," she said. "Don't drag your summer clothes in white into fall."