The official wear-white season is upon us

cbolling@charlotteobserver.comMay 22, 2013 

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    1936 Swiss surrealist artist and photographer Meret Oppenheim presents a pair of high-heeled white leather shoes trussed and turned upside down on a platter, adding paper chop frills to the heels. It’s a statement on fashion, sex and oppression.

    1955 In “The Seven Year Itch,” Marilyn Monroe shoots what will become a legendary scene when her white rayon acetate draped halter dress is blown up when she stands on a street grate, revealing white panties.

    1961 Designer Cristobal Balenciaga creates the spiral hat, a variation on the pillbox. Observers compare it to wearing the Tower of Babel on your head.

    1969 Beatle John Lennon wears a white suit by French designer Ted Lapidus for the “Abbey Road” album cover; the suit sold at auction in 2011 for $46,000.

    1977 Another John, actor Travolta, strikes a pose in a white three-piece suit and makes cinematic and disco history in “Saturday Night Fever.”

    1981 Princess Diana wears perhaps the 20th century’s most-famous – and puffiest – wedding dress.

    1992 In “Basic Instinct,” actress Sharon Stone tops Monroe by wearing a fitted sleeveless white dress – and no underwear.

    1998 Stone makes a lasting Oscar red carpet moment when she pairs a lilac Vera Wang evening skirt with her then-husband’s white button-down Gap shirt.

    2001 At the Academy Awards ceremony, singer Bjork gives humorless critics a lasting bad-fashion low bar when she wears a white swan fashioned as a dress.

  • Find your right white

    • White is not just one color; it ranges from cool (stark white) to warm (beige white). Not every white suits your coloring.

    • Wear the shade that flatters your face. One trick to deciding: A white is too bright if the color stands out more than your skin color. It’s too warm if it makes you look sallow or jaundiced.

    • Eggshell and milk-white flatters you if you have cool coloring (a grayish undertone). Pale skin and the darkest skin colors can both be cool, suited to stark white.

    • Ecru or beige-white flatters you if you have a hint of gold in your skin. I’m a dark-skinned black woman, and ivory suits me better than stark white, which makes me look ashy.

    • White sets off other colors by providing contrast.

    • If there’s contrast in your coloring (for instance, light hair and darker skin or vice versa), wear white with dark to mirror your coloring in a pleasing way.

    Sheon Wilson

Fashion rules tie people in knots. They get angry, anxious and exasperated by the idea they shouldn’t wear something because it’s not proper.

Here’s one we don’t have to sweat: The official wear-white season is upon us with Memorial Day on the horizon. The no longer mandatory don’t-wear-white-till-Memorial-Day rule has a practical explanation: White bounces light and absorbs less heat, just what you need in hot weather.

“In the spring and summer, it’s all about light and bright fabrics to beat the heat, such as airy linen sundresses, cool crocheted tops and delicate white silk tanks,” JustFab style expert and E! Fashion Police co-host George Kotsiopoulos said in an email interview.

“Head-to-toe white is a hot trend this summer. The key to this look is mixing textures to give your look dimension and interest.”

Elegant white is the backdrop for glamorous parties, chief among them Sean Combs’ opulent annual party and charity fundraiser. He began hosting The White Party at his homes in St. Tropez, Southampton or Los Angeles in 1998, inviting Hollywood’s A-List.

That inspired party promoters Chuck Henson and T. Brookshire Harris, whose All White Attire Affair ( is expected to draw 3,000 people to the Raleigh Convention Center on July 27.

Partygoers spend months finding just the right whites, said Henson, who hosted the first party in 2004.

“People dress up rather than just throw something on,” he said. “Some of them go back to their rooms and change during the party and come back in another white outfit.”

Henson had a white suit custom-made one year and has worn white pants and a vest or a pristine shirt and bowtie to others.

“Wearing white is a challenge,” he said, “and finding something white is a challenge.”

Kotsiopoulos agrees. The main thing to fear is spilling coffee on your whites, “and be careful where you sit,” the celebrity stylist said.

“I love this look for guys who want to amp up their summer style,” he said. “The full suit look is tough to pull off, so try pairing a white blazer with a colored checked shirt and rolled-up jeans.”

If you go with white pants “don’t go too tight – white jeans and slacks will show every flaw if they’re too tight,” he said.

“What’s just as important is what you wear under (white). Make sure your underwear is flesh-toned, not white, or it’ll show!”

Sheon Wilson ( is a personal branding expert, writer and N&O Refresh Your Style makeover specialist.

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