No white after Labor Day? Despite the lingering ring of one of Emily Post’s most famous etiquette dictums, fashion has moved on: Optic white pumps, booties and bags were everywhere on the fall runways alongside vibrant ready-to-wear in florals and pastel shades — turning notions of season-appropriate colors on their head.
Buyers took notice and are getting firmly behind the wealth of designer accessories offered in white, especially in shoes. It’s a trend that kicked off last year and is only getting stronger.
“This past fall, some of our best-selling shoes included white boots from Sergio Rossi and Acne. Our offering ranged from designer to contemporary price points and virtually all styles sold out,” said Lisa Aiken, retail fashion director at Net-a-porter.com. “Our customers view it as an instant wardrobe update.”
Jeffrey Kalinsky, vice president, designer fashion director at Nordstrom and founder of Jeffrey stores in Atlanta and New York, echoed the sentiment. “White accessories sold really, really well last fall, particularly shoes. It was a bestseller in both our stores, everyone wanted a white shoe or a white boot,” he said. “I do think it will continue to translate to sales.”
Buyers credited the directional customer who consumes fashion via social media and the web for sparking the trend for a few years, recalling the ubiquitous adoption of Adidas Stan Smith sneakers of 2014 as a precursor.
“That was when we really saw it hit and from there was a turn to greater acceptance for white shoes,” noted Jamie Ross, fashion director of accessories and footwear at The Doneger Group, “I think now the customer is really understanding it. You’d think it would be impractical, but you see so many people wearing it here on the streets of New York in all seasons.”
Erica Russo, vice president of fashion direction for accessories and beauty at Bloomingdale’s, agreed the trend is gaining momentum. “I think she is a girl who is fashion-forward, she looks at street style, she is super engaged and she expects us to be offering her that,” she said. “This is something that has an added value to her look, and gives her look an edge. But rather than how it changes her look, the white pieces elevate and gives her a twist on what she already owns.”
“[For the customer] the mind starts to adjust to it, along with a lot of street style and fashion influencers wearing it and that is probably what engaged a faster reaction in terms of sales,” said Cassie Smart, head of women’s wear at Matchesfashion.com. “A lot of those types of customers are very aspirational and very driven by the fashion influencers that they follow. To the customer, this trend still feels really new.”
In the boot category, buyers called out Fendi’s cowboy boot, Gianvito Rossi’s lace-up boot, Manolo Blahnik’s evening bootie and emerging brand Attico, which “had a really strong over-the-knee boot that we really bought into because it was really quite glamorous and strong,” noted Smart.
Roopal Patel, senior vice president of fashion direction at Saks Fifth Avenue, lauded white shoes across the board for fall. “There is a nice range of great shoes. We see white pumps in leather and mules, sneakers. White has become this palette cleaner. It’s toning down all this rich, bold color we are seeing in the clothing. It looks fresh and makes everything look crisp.”
“Before, the little black bootie was the go-to but it’s really being replaced by the white version,” said Doneger’s Ross. “And in turn this helps the white handbag category. People used to think a black handbag goes with everything, but a white handbag is just as versatile.”
Buyers agreed, citing Stella McCartney logo totes, Proenza Schouler’s western style bags with white fringe and the Loewe backpack among standout styles.
“I think white can have an edgier feeling depending on the structure of the bag, the hardware that is used, gunmetal or black piping, or it can have an even more refined look, or some kind of mixing of texture or details to ground it a little. That makes it still feel like a fall bag for a customer that isn’t used to seeing a stark white handbag for fall,” Russo said, also mentioning the Issey Miyake Bao-Bao style and Coach’s printed snakeskin bags among strong options for her customer.
Accessories are being offered in a broad spectrum of shades. “It’s not just the optic white, it’s also moving into off-whites and creams. We see this continued growth in terms of the trend and, it’s an opportunity for an expansion across the accessory category. We are beginning to see it in belt bags, belts, sunglasses,” Ross noted.
Many buyers called white “a new fashion neutral” and that translates to sales, according to NPD/Consumer tracking. U.S. dollar sales of white/off-white fashion footwear, both dress and casual, increased 1 percent in the 12 months ending March 2018, and accounted for 5 percent, or $27 billion, of the segment’s total sales for the period.
White footwear had one of its biggest fashion moments in the Sixties, when Nancy Sinatra stomped into America’s ears with “these boots are made for walking” and designers like André Courrèges designed white accessories to match Space Age clothing. In 1967, WWD called Courrèges a “commercial force in rtw and accessories.” The Sixties were known for breaking fashion traditions, and futurists like Courrèges used white to do just that.
“During the Sixties, there was a definite rift between the older, more staid generation of parents and the more rebellious younger generation. Courrèges added a futuristic movement to his clothing, creating angular silhouettes and outrageous white accessories from hats to bags to footwear,” said Ellen Lynch, professor of accessories design at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
Before that, the color had other meanings. “White was a sign of affluence and prosperity. You wore white to show off how wealthy you were. When September would come around, the wealthy would return to their homes and stop wearing their white until Memorial Day,” Lynch explained.
More recently, “white had a reputation of being hard to wear and being not as sophisticated,” according to Matchesfashion’s Smart. “But looking back at fall 2017, white accessories had a really quick sales reaction. While black always does well and ticks across the season, we saw a quicker and faster reaction in terms of engagement and sell through and quite quickly. When it is trend driven, you see a quicker rate of sales.”