Labor Day is almost here. Its contentious history and the origin of (not) wearing white


 Labor Day always falls on a Monday, but the exact date changes every year.

Angela Lang/CNET

Summer’s last hoorah is a little over two weeks away, and while you may know Labor Day for its obscure adage about wearing white, you might not know exactly when it falls in 2021 or the fascinating history of the holiday.

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For example, did you know that Labor Day has been a national holiday since 1894, and has contentious beginnings? (In fact, two men with almost the same name fight for credit.) We’ll walk you through when Labor Day is this year and through 2026, the fight over the holiday’s founder and what the big deal is with white clothing anyway.

When is Labor Day 2021 and beyond?

Labor Day falls on the first Monday of every September. This year, it’s on Monday, Sept. 6. Here are the dates for each holiday through 2026. 

Upcoming Labor Days

Year Day it falls on
2021 6 Sept.
2022 5 Sept.
2023 4 Sept.
2024 2 Sept.
2025 1 Sept.
2026 7 Sept.

What’s the history behind Labor Day?

Labor Day is attributed to two different origins, and it doesn’t help that the people who get credit have very similar names. And though they are indeed unrelated, their passion for improving the working conditions of Americans was very much the same. 

The first version of how Labor Day came to be includes a man named Peter McGuire, the founder of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and co-founder of the American Federation of Labor. He led two strikes in 1886 and 1890, which led to eventual norms of 8 hour workdays. On May 12, 1882, McGuire presented a case to the New York Central Labor Union to propose an annual holiday celebrating workers’ labor in September. A parade followed by a picnic was to be put on to display the strength and “esprit de corps” of working class Americans. 

The other figure credited with Labor Day’s creation was Matthew Maguire, who led strikes throughout the 1870s to make the public aware of manufacturing workers’ exhaustive 12-hour workdays, 7 days a week. He became the Secretary of the Central Labor Union of New York and helped organize the parade and picnic credited to Peter McGuire. After President Cleveland signed the day into a federal holiday, a New Jersey editorial named Maguire — and not McGuire — the true “Father of Labor Day.” The first Labor Day celebration took place on Sept. 5, 1882, a Tuesday.

However, because Matthew Maguire held political beliefs that were considered radical for the time, Samuel Gompers — co-founder of the American Federation of Labor — didn’t want Labor Day to be associated with his organization, according to the New Jersey Historical Society. Because of this, Gompers credited his co-founder and friend Peter McGuire as the brainchild behind Labor Day in a 1897 interview about the holiday’s creation.

When did Labor Day become a national holiday?

While the first picnic and parade took place in New York in 1882, Labor Day didn’t become an official state event until 1887, when Oregon officially celebrated the holiday. Soon, the rest of the country followed suit, according to the US Department of Labor. It was declared a federal holiday in 1894. We’ll have ketchup with our hotdog, please.

The newest federal holiday is Juneteenth, signed into law by President Joe Biden with the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act on June 18, 2021. Read more about Juneteenth — celebrated June 19 — here


Labor Day was declared a federal holiday in 1894. 

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Where did the ‘don’t wear white after Labor Day’ rule come from? 

You know the phrase, “no white after Labor Day.” This fashion rule says to put all your white attire at the back of the wardrobe. But with weeks of warm weather left, why has it become a widespread end-of-summer practice? 

The creators of the fashion edict were wealthy, high-society 19th century women who found their social lives being invaded by “new money” newcomers. To establish their place from brand-new millionaires in the social hierarchy, insider knowledge became a common practice to separate families with established privilege from new arrivals to high society. According to lore, the introduction of Labor Day provided a checkpoint at the end of the summer social season to single out those in the know. 

Lighter fabrics also reflect the sun during hot summer months, making white a popular and practical color during a carefree season. Custom dictated a return to darker, heavier fabrics once cooler weather came. However, fashion icon Coco Chanel and former first lady Michelle Obama have famously flouted the practice. Nowadays, respected etiquette guides tell us that the rule is a thing of the past. No need to tuck that white shirt away! 

What are local Labor Day celebrations near me?

Many cities and towns host their own Labor Day celebrations, including parades, town-wide festivals, cookouts and maybe even fireworks. Some places to look for Labor Day events in your community include: 

It’s important to note that because of the ongoing pandemic, your community’s celebration may look different this year. Read more about safety updates regarding COVID-19, including current guidelines on wearing masks in public if you’re vaccinated