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Sep 4, 2023

Belaboring Post-Labor Day Traditions

Don’t wear white shoes or drop mustard on them

By Ed Goldman

Labor Day arrived this morning at 12:01 with a couple of irrelevant traditions still attached to it. 

I don’t mean the consumption of beer and hot dogs—to not do those things would be sacrilegious (and possibly illegal in certain states where you still can marry your sister, apparently). But some taboos are a bit out of date.

Edgy Cartoon

The grill of it all

For example, women (and eventually, men) once weren’t supposed to wear white after the holiday. While it’s natural to assume this dictum came from a fashion magazine—the kind that arbitrarily declares that this fall’s color will be smaragdine [an emerald hue, pronounced smurAGdin] and its de rigueur fabric hopsack—in truth, the least stylish publication imaginable joined the debate at one point. 

Yes, the editors of Farmers’ Almanac once pointed out that “white linens and lighter fabrics were associated with the wealthy society’s summertime excursions to seaside locations. So, continuing to wear white after returning from vacation was considered rude or a way to ‘show off.'”

This is troubling on oh-so-many levels. First of all, for avid readers of the almanac, you’d expect its fashion tips to be something along the lines of, “Going to a formal event? We suggest you drive your black tractor.” (By the way, the longtime motto of Farmers’ Almanac is “Never explain but always complain about the weather.” You need to know this.)  

Second, the dictum ignores the switcheroo thats occurred in society since those summertime seashore excursions. In the late 1800s and early 1900s (Labor Day began in 1882), a guy with a suntan was considered to be a farm worker, a cowboy or a stevedore—not someone whose biggest decision each morning was between having a kale-and-acai smoothie with extra protein powder first or a rigorous rubdown from the in-house Scandinavian masseur, Hans Lefsa.

Meanwhile, tan, pasty, tubby men were viewed as prosperous because they could afford to pay that farm worker, cowboy and stevedore to till the soil, herd the cattle or lade the steamer trunks onto the cruise ship. I’d have been taken for affluent back then until they realized that despite my overfed, jaundiced look I couldn’t even afford to travel with the cattle.

Quite the opposite these days, as you know. If your skin rocks a golden glow you either have the means to vacation in sunny climes or you had a contractor tear out one half the double-sink in your 1,000-square-foot bathroom and install a tanning booth in its place. 

And if you’re pudgy these days, it means you don’t have a personal trainer, dietitian or gastric-bypass surgeon on your auto-dial. You may not even have a life coach on retainer; this says so much about your demographic, which likely includes hobos.

“Labor Day is the unofficial end of Hot Dog season,” according to the National Constitution Center. To which I say, Why not make it official, you sniveling wimps? Who’s going to stop you? You may have a nice address on Arch Street in Philadelphia but you have zero authority vis a vis frankfurters!

And what does “unofficial” mean, anyway? That’s like buying a book called “an unauthorized biography” of somebody famous. As soon as you see that word, you know you’re in for a juicy read. If it’s “authorized,” it means the famous somebody has had all the good parts airbrushed out and you’re left with a book as compelling as the LL Bean Catalogue in Tagalog. (Actually, if you were a Filipino fashionista, that might not be bad to peruse.)

Upon reflection, I’ll admit that banning hot dogs and white shoes at the same time makes some aesthetic sense. Mustard stains are bears to clean off any shoes. With white ones, the most you can hope for is that someone else at the picnic brought a box of Tipp-Ex Correction Tapes along with the jar of pickled okra. Otherwise, you’d better learn to color-blend like a pro, carefully smearing the mustard across the entire surface of the shoe until it looks like something you bought in the Dress-Like-Mickey section of the Disney Store.

Maybe dressing like Mickey should become a Labor Day tradition. You could eat all the hot dogs you wanted because your shoes would already be yellow. I’ll reach out to the National Constitution Center first thing tomorrow. I believe I have it on auto-dial.

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Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).