There is a saying that rules are made to be broken and no one breaks the no-white-shoes-after-Labor-Day rule better than swing dancers. With the popularity of white cap toe shoes, compliance seems impossible. Perhaps people either don’t care or aren’t aware that someone, somewhere, a long time ago, probably in the South, came up with these “rules” for dressing.
I was born in the South and have lived here my entire life, following the white shoe rule to the letter of the law, primarily enforced by my mother. When I asked my mother why I couldn’t wear my white shoes after Labor Day, as it was still very warm outside and appropriate weather for summer dresses, I received some sort of stock response like “that’s just the way it is.” Curious, I knew that others probably had the same question.
Rather than continue to blindly follow this Southern tradition, I looked around the web and discovered a delightful article called “The White Shoe Rule and Straw Hat Day” by David Bagwell (republished by a blog called Southern Appeal) that gives a humorous history, rationale, and the occasional mayoral proclamation concerning dress code.
How does this relate to dancers? If you enjoy dressing in vintage, these “rules” can give you an indication of what period dancers may have been wearing, if they subscribed to these rules. There is a certain practicality to what the article says about certain materials and fabrics being appropriate for certain types of weather and those guidelines are universally applicable. As the article points out, Mark Twain showed up in Washington, D.C. in the winter in a white suit, but that particular suit was made of flannel, not linen.
If vintage is not your thing, then the focus becomes the ensemble. Modern fashion has been chipping away at the white shoe rule for years, but not necessarily in an arbitrary way. The focus should still be on putting together an appropriate outfit that suits the occasion and the addition of white shoes is not intended to draw attention to the shoes themselves, necessarily. The attention for dancers should be on the footwork and the white shoes act to enhance that visual.
The author of the article describes the appropriate wearing of white shoes out of season in terms of being “edgy” or creating an “intentional fashion faux pas.” Otherwise, “On the average woman (or man), it will simply look like someone who didn’t quite know whether it was Easter or Memorial Day yet.” I think the gents have embraced the white cap toes somewhere in these “edgy” terms, wearing them with everything from suits to jeans, so much that they have become a staple of certain wardrobes. I have to admit that the first time I saw dancers wearing white shoes out of season it was a bit of a shock to my system, but the practice has grown on me. So long as the white shoes are paired well, with an intent to create a cohesive ensemble, the white shoe can be worn year-round.
If you’d like to read more, my regular blog is lindyshopper.com, a blog about sources for swing dance clothing, shoes and accessories.