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Labor Day 2021: When it is and why we celebrate

The labor holiday is more than cookouts and a time to stop wearing white.

We all know Labor Day as the unofficial end to the summer season. The leaves begin to change, the weather turns crisp, and that “back to school” feeling kicks in.

Labor Day is always celebrated on the first Monday of September. Labor Day 2021 is September 6, 2021.

The holiday is a great time to find sales and even food freebies, but it started with the labor movements of the late 1800s.

Why do we celebrate Labor Day?

The idea of Labor Day emerged in the late 19th century out of the organized labor movements. In September 1882, unions in New York decided to throw themselves a parade to celebrate unions as a concept and the hard-working people comprising them.

Even though workers had to give up a day’s pay to attend, more than 20,000 people showed up to the parade. It was a celebration of historic proportions.

Soon, unions in other states started having September parades, and within five years, several states declared “Labor Day” official state holidays. In 1894, 12 years after the first labor parade in New York, President Grover Cleveland signed an act establishing Labor Day as a federal holiday on the first Monday of every September.

Labor Day of 1882 in Pittsburgh. Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

How do we celebrate Labor Day now?

While some towns still have Labor Day parades similar to the original Labor Day festivities of the 19th century, the general focus of the holiday has shifted more toward celebrating the end of summer. Cookouts and pool parties are much more in favor now than marching bands and union speeches. And Labor Day is usually a busy time for travel.

Still, the original spirit of honoring the work force remains, and Labor Day is a paid holiday for most American workers. According to the U.S. Travel Association, more than half of all working Americans don't use all of their paid vacation days. In a country that works so much, having a day off is an ideal way to celebrate and recharge for the fall. That, and terrific sales.

When do Labor Day sales start?

Another tradition of Labor Day in America is the discounts! Labor Day is on Monday, September 6, but Labor Day sales usually start the weekend before and in some cases, up to a week in advance. If you're in the market for something large like a kitchen appliance, a washer/dryer, or a mattress, Labor Day is an excellent time to go shopping because big ticket items often get the most notable discounts around this time of year. You can expect good deals on electronics at places like Walmart and Best Buy, and some good deals on Amazon as well.

Can you wear white after Labor Day?

Wearing white after Labor Day has long been considered a fashion faux-pas. However, no one is certain where the rule “you cannot wear white after Labor Day” came from.

Some fashion historians say it was pure classist snobbery — a social more set in place by the American nouveau riche as a way to easily denote who was wealthy and who wasn’t, because people with less money could not afford seasonal clothes. Others say that not wearing white after Labor Day simply came about because Labor Day marked the end of summer and white was traditionally thought of as summer-wear. As the weather turned colder, people began to favor darker clothing, like gray sweaters and dark navy suits.

Over time this natural trend became codified into fashion tradition. Either way, despite what fashion critics might say, it’s not a hard and fast rule. Coco Chanel famously bucked the trend and wore white year-round, so in 2021 there’s no reason not to wear your favorite white clothes in the Fall (but we wouldn’t be caught dead wearing white after Thanksgiving!)