FORT POLK, La. –
Have you ever heard someone say, “Don’t wear white after Labor Day?” I have and always wondered why. Is it bad luck? Is fashion directed that much by the seasons?
Actually it has roots in American history; wearing white after Labor Day was a symbol of class wealth, a distinguishing mark on society.
In the 19th century, people began migrating from rural farming towns to the cities in search of a better life. During the Industrial Revolution, many laborers found themselves working in mines, mills and factories. These jobs were dangerous and often in extreme working conditions; the working class found themselves at the mercy of big business owners. At this time, the government did not interfere in commerce, leaving the workers with no basic rights in order to fight for improvements.
It was not uncommon for entire families to be employed, in order to make enough wages to pay for amenities. The average worker endured a strenuous work environment; the jobs were tedious and repetitive, the conditions were hazardous with little to no ventilation, the compensation was meager at best (men were paid about 10 cents an hour, women received half of the men’s pay and children were paid a meager 1 cent per hour). Many workers were maimed and left deformed by the machines, if this occurred, they were sent home jobless and with no compensation.
It wasn’t long before the laborers banded together, organized a series of strikes and demanded better working conditions. This movement ultimately led to what we recognize today as our modern day labor union.
After much bloodshed and economic loss, the government heard the people’s cry and Labor Day was born. It is typically celebrated the first Monday in September. This day was chosen as a halfway mark between Independence Day and Thanksgiving, giving the laborer a much needed rest, striving for a balance between work and home.
The Labor Day weekend has long since marked the end of the summer. Many families choose to take a short vacation and recoup before heading back to work full-steam ahead. (That saying also became prevalent during the Industrial Revolution. The steam-powered machinery would run at full capacity, until the fog was so thick inside the factories you couldn’t see your own hands in front of you while working.)
What about the white attire then? Anyone caught wearing white after Labor Day was labeled as rich and elite, since only the wealthy could afford to take time off other than that designated by the employer. It wasn’t practical for workers to wear white clothing to labor in the dirty conditions of the mills, those outfits were considered frivolous and saved only for special occasions.
What we can take away from Labor Day:
• Strive for a balance in life (make time for work, life and play)
• Have a voice (speak out against unfair work practices)
• Wear white on Labor Day (and remember the early workers throughout history)
Melissa Box works as a Public Affairs Assistant at Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital.
The views and opinions expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the United States Government, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Army, the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk, or Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital.