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The white shoe debate: When is it okay to wear them?

I'm fully aware this could start World War III (or at least another Civil War), but I'm going to tackle it anyway.

The issue: When is it proper to wear white shoes? Or, more precisely, when is it proper for women to wear dressy white shoes? (Apparently, men can wear white buckskin shoes any time they want to have that Great Gatsby look, and women can wear white sneakers or boots any time.)

Some fashion arbiters say, "never," that white shoes are declasse and should be worn only with a uniform.

Some say white shoes are proper only for brides who wear a white dress.

But many of us adore our white shoes, so the only question for us is, "When?"

Some say it doesn't matter.

The Emily Post Institute, for instance, decreed on May 17, 2004, "White (shoes) can be worn 365 days a year. The old rule … is a thing of the past."

To that, I say, "Ha!" Try strolling into a tearoom in, say, Mount Dora, with your white shoes on in February and note the withering stares you get from the natives. Worse, wear them during a winter visit anywhere in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi or South Carolina and watch onlookers' eyes narrow in scorn.

So, what's a girl to do?

The first half has been settled. Just about everyone agrees, "Don't wear white shoes after Labor Day."

It's the second half that causes the ruckus. Some say the restart day is Memorial Day, which comes the last Monday of May.

Others say Easter, which usually comes sometime in April.

I didn't realize how strongly people felt about this until a week ago, when I asked my dear friend to come help me winnow my summer wardrobe, which is a major part of my ongoing "less is more" personal property campaign.

As I lined up my rather large collection of white shoes in the floor of my closet, I saw her eyes narrow almost imperceptibly.

"Of course, you won't need those until after Memorial Day," she said, matter-of-factly.

I hesitated for a moment. After all, this is my friend to whom I often compare my sartorial style thusly: "Gee, you always look as though you're from Palm Beach; I always look as though I just came from a day at the beach."

Even so, I couldn't hold back.

"No, no. Easter is White Shoe Day," I said. "And Easter was a couple of weeks ago."

She was adamant; I was adamant. But why were we poles apart?

We agree on everything else — politics (liberal), religion (or absence thereof), food (barbecue rules), weather (warm), travel (as little as possible), paid employment (as long as we're able) — in short, all the basic things.

Then I realized the apparent reason for the dispute. She's a Northerner, and I'm a girl of the deep South. That had to be the difference.

For confirmation, I turned to the Internet and quickly found one David A. Bagwell, a highly respected attorney, historian, author, humorist and fisherman, whose opinions appear, among other places, in the Mobile Bay Times, an electronic magazine with a locational name that implies it just might be attuned to the Southern sensibility.

Mr. Bagwell's "giggle till your co-cola comes out your nose" essay, "The White Shoe Rule and Straw Hat Day" (mobilebaytimes.com/bagwellwhite shoe040110.html) goes into great depth and is as clever an explanation as I could hope to find, especially since it verifies my own theory, which is always appealing to anyone as full of theories as I am.

Mr. Bagwell points out that 50 years ago the tradition in the deep South was that beginning on Easter weekend, "it became safe to wear white … shoes." Since then, he says, some Southerners have switched course and now say it's Memorial Day.

"My answer to them is that they have gradually become — apparently unknowingly, I'll charitably grant them that — the pawns and tools of the general Yankee-fication of America." And Mr. Bagwell doesn't sound too cheerful about that prospect.

He acknowledges that many books say Memorial Day is White Shoe Day. "But all those books are written by Yankees," he points out. "In the South, our (rules) were always different, and they still are, unless we are morphing into Yankees, as some of us are."

The main difference seems to be the weather — white shoes reflect the sun and are thus cooling — but, perhaps more subtly, whether your forebears and native culture observed Confederate Memorial Day (late April) or Yankee Memorial Day (last Monday in May) and passed that tradition on to you.

Whatever, Mr. Bagwell concludes that "white clothes are ok from Easter through Labor Day, on clear days anyway, and being reasonable about it, like 'ok at garden parties but not funerals.' "

That's good 'nuf for li'l ol' me.

The white shoe debate: When is it okay to wear them? 04/23/10 [Last modified: Friday, April 23, 2010 9:28pm]

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