For those of a certain generation—namely, anyone who first started getting dressed in the late 19th century until recently—one of the gravest sartorial sins would be to wear white shoes after Labor Day. As a mentally deranged housewife and mother, Kathleen Turner’s character whacks a juror (played by Patty Hearst) for wearing seasonally inappropriate white shoes to the courtroom in John Waters’ Serial Mom. And of course, the ultimate guide to etiquette, Miss Manners Guide for the Turn-of-the-Millenium by Judith Martin, admonishes readers not to break the rule with the fervor of a religious zealot: “In a society in which everything else has become relative, a matter of how it makes you feel, a question between you and your conscience, and an opportunity for you to be really you, this is an absolute.” She goes on to belittle the mavericks who deign to ignore this commandment as nothing short of dull: “For goodness’ sake, if you want to smash the conventions of your own heritage, find a rule that is more fun to break.”
Where exactly this “heritage” originates, Miss Manners does not exactly make clear. Her edict does not stem from something as hackneyed as the weather, or “one of nature’s more charming ideas” as she puts it (“Comfort and heat have nothing to do with it, or we would all be wearing our bathing suits to the office.”)—though that would seem to be the obvious reason. In locales with four seasons, warm weather typically follows Memorial Day, which is when Miss Manners officially sanctions white shoes. However, if you’ve ever worn white patent leather Mary Janes or oxfords—the kind of shoe I imagine Miss Manners must think of first when she pictures white shoes, and sneakers don’t count—those things don’t exactly repel heat. And what about people who live in the South, the hub of the white-shoe rule, where there is warm weather year round? So it seems that instead of having a practical justification, this arcane gentility seems to exist just for the sake of existing, a rule for those who don’t need them to have any basis or utility. You just do it because it is done.
While acolytes of Miss Manners may not agree, Emily Post has since relaxed the rule: “White can be worn 365 days a year. The old rule about wearing white only between Memorial Day and Labor Day is a thing of the past.” Not that fashion mavens have made politeness a dressing mandate or care what Emily Post and Miss Manners have to say about style, but at least now our grandmothers can’t judge us for it. Rule or no rule, however, some of the best white shoes are the summer ones. From espadrilles to sandals, here’s our gallery of crisp, seasonally correct white shoes. Wear them starting now.
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Renata Espinosa is the New York editor of Fashion Wire Daily. She is also the co-founder of impressionistic fashion and art blog TheNuNu and a sometimes backup dancer for "The Anna Copa Cabanna Show."