Not a *white handbag*!!!
February 2, 2011 11:49 AM   Subscribe

What's inappropriate about wearing a white handbag to a job interview?

My husband (a teacher) went on a course today, part of which was about how to make a good impression at job interviews. The woman talking, the headmistress of his school, related various stories about inappropriately dressed interviewees, one of whom was a woman carrying - at this point she said "and I'm sure all the ladies here will know exactly what I mean" - a white handbag.

Neither of us has any idea what horrors a white handbag could possibly hint at (and I'm a lady, of a sort). Apparently upon the revelation of the white handbag there was a general "ohhhh yes" kind of response from some of the women, so apparently the ladies did know what she meant, but a brief googling of white handbag connotations has turned up nothing for me. We're both strangely intrigued - can anyone here fill us in? We're in the UK, in case that helps!
posted by raspberry-ripple to Society & Culture (49 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
My only guess is it was a no-white-after-labor-day thing? But other than that... I dunno. And even that is kind of ridiculous.
posted by brainmouse at 11:50 AM on February 2, 2011

That's strange. Maybe because a white handbag is sort of impractical, since it will get dirty right away? Or maybe it was matched with her shoes, which were white after Labor Day...or her shoes weren't white, and the headmistress was noting that her handbag didn't match?

All the above are pretty weird reasons to actually consider someone inappropriately dressed, though.
posted by peachfuzz at 11:55 AM on February 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't bring a white handbag to a job interview but only because it doesn't read super-professional to mr, compared to, say, beige -- it might be a more "garden party" look. But I can't imagine that it would be a serious faux pas. I'm scratching my head too, in other words.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 11:55 AM on February 2, 2011

Yeah, my first and only thought is: after Labor Day? Which is a US thing-you don't wear white after summer is over.
posted by MexicanYenta at 11:55 AM on February 2, 2011

My mom recently told me that the white purse I was carrying was "gross." - specifically the color of it, not the style, and she couldn't explain why - "it just is." So, I don't know, maybe 50-something women are holding a white-purse bias that we don't know about?
posted by coupdefoudre at 11:59 AM on February 2, 2011 [11 favorites]

To me, it feels like a white handbag is very "fashion" and might be considered kind of declasse. Sort of like something Dolly Parton would carry... (not that I don't love Dolly Parton).
posted by drjimmy11 at 12:01 PM on February 2, 2011

Are you sure your husband didn't mishear? Did she say that carrying a white hambone into an interview was inappropriate? Or a white handlebar mustache? Because either of those, yeah, maybe I could see.

I had a middle school English teacher (very, very Southern and proper) who was horribly embarrassed one day when she wore white shoes to school (it was dark when she got dressed and she thought she was grabbing her "sensible" beige ones). She insisted on explaining her horrid behavior to everyone she saw that day, including hoards of twelve year olds who 1) didn't care and 2) wouldn't even have noticed if she hadn't pointed it out. My guess is it's related to that kind of insanity.
posted by phunniemee at 12:02 PM on February 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

White stuff attracts dirt and grime and dirt and grime look unprofessional.

Not sure that this is really any more complicated than that.
posted by dfriedman at 12:04 PM on February 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

If it's UK I wonder if it might not be considered Chav-ey, on par with the fake tans and pale pink lipstick and burberry?
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 12:04 PM on February 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't see any real problem with it, but in addition to the seasonal element, in Texas the kids' purses we'd get were usually either white or pink, so maybe there's that association as well? It's at least the first thing that came to my mind.
posted by lhall at 12:09 PM on February 2, 2011

Disclaimer: I'm a chap who has never owned a handbag, but for what it's worth my 2p is simply that professional dress codes typically emphasise muted colours, textures and patterns - white handbags clearly possess none of these attributes.

In my thankfully limited experience white handbags are seen to be dressier accessories amongst the rather more, how shall I put it, gaudy classes...
posted by mooders at 12:10 PM on February 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

On second thought, I take it back. I read this thread and the consensus seems to be either about following the no-white-after rule, or because it just wouldn't look good with the colors and textures of winter.
posted by lhall at 12:13 PM on February 2, 2011

My guess is the school is pretty conservative or conventional. You wouldn't wear white to a corporate or otherwise conservative job interview except in a blouse or shirt. Even if you're holding a pristine white bag, it looks pretty jarring against the traditional black, gray, or navy suit.
posted by asciident at 12:14 PM on February 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

White pocketbooks give an air of "summertime beach resort" to me, so might not give the most serious-minded impression in a job interview. But I think this person was probably just inflating her pet peeve into some Universal Law that actually isn't.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:18 PM on February 2, 2011

I did some Googling and am wondering if it's related to "Essex Girls" .

From this article: "There are still some girls who are stuck in an Essex time warp - the little white handbag brigade."

The article's from 1999, though, so maybe the headmistress is conflating Essex Girls and Chavs.
posted by camyram at 12:19 PM on February 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm not aware of any connotation other than tackiness, but that "you know what I mean" is intriguing. I'd consider it analogous to wearing white socks with dark shoes during an interview, except a lot more obvious.

The general guideline for interview accessories is that they should draw as little attention as possible. A white handbag would stick out pretty clearly against a dark suit.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:23 PM on February 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is he going back? Can he ask her as an out-of-curiosity thing? 'Cause I'm seriously curious myself, now.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 12:27 PM on February 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Hmm. I have a white handbag, and I would never wear it to an interview or anything work-related, but I can't articulate exactly why. With my handbag specifically, I suppose the style of it is too "night out" or "boho" for work - it has a sort of braided strap, and a long fringed tassel thingy on the zipper pull. It's also fairly small and impractical; it fits under my arm. That makes it sound hideous, but it's cute, I promise! I do think whoever designed it went out of their way to make it look classy depite it being white. It's very nice leather, not bright and shiny. It's a classic shape. I could see how a different white handbag could look tacky or cheap. Also, the color wouldn't go with typical conservative work clothes. I wear black or grey or dark brown or muted greens and blues when I need to look professional, and a white bag would be really obvious and probably clash with that. So maybe it's the whole image of a white bag with, I don't know, a pale pink blouse and a denim skirt or some outfit that would be considered too "girly" or casual for an interview. (I'm in the US btw.)
posted by DestinationUnknown at 12:28 PM on February 2, 2011

It's just too casual and unprofessional. Too much like cruise wear.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 12:34 PM on February 2, 2011 [6 favorites]

I can't think of any educated professional in my life that would use a white handbag. To be honest, I think of white handbags as being "common" or chav. So all I can think is maybe other people think so as well?
posted by saucysault at 12:39 PM on February 2, 2011

This is completely meaningless and there's no reason not to carry a white handbag to a job interview.

I will say that I've yet to see a white leather handbag that didn't look kinda cheap, but that doesn't mean they don't exist. Also, white handbags get dirty easily. But that's really the only reasoning against it.
posted by tel3path at 12:40 PM on February 2, 2011

Yes, the implication is that it's slightly trashy, trampy, vulgar and too-feminine. For example.
posted by dontjumplarry at 12:41 PM on February 2, 2011

When I think of a white handbag, I automatically think of certain styles (fun, playful, summery) or materials (leather but also beaded/woven/novelty materials -- I'm imagining a painted white wicker "box" thing-y with white plastic, pearlescent handles from the early 1960's I saw in a vintage clothing store the other day). So, maybe the idea of a white handbag just screams "vacation" or "summer party" rather than job interview, to some people.
posted by marimeko at 12:41 PM on February 2, 2011

Where did this happen, raspberry-ripple? Here in the US, I (female, 20s) have never heard of anything like that, and it's the sort of thing my mom (50something) would have definitely made sure I knew if she'd ever heard of it herself. There are plenty of photos of Queen Elizabeth with white purses so I can't imagine how the sort of person who cared about purse color would see it as an unspeakably rude thing to do.

I generally don't bring a purse into job interviews but if I did, I would have no hesitation at all about bringing a white one. And if the interviewer actually judged me on my purse color, that would definitely be a place where I wouldn't want to work!
posted by Ashley801 at 12:45 PM on February 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Metroid Baby- just wondering, why exactly is it a rule that accessories should draw as little attention as possible? Would it differ or remain the same if one is going in for an interview in the fashion or arts industry? (I do not and never wish to work in a corporate environment or any environment that espouses the majority of views on this thread! =] ) Thanks for the clarification!
posted by lovelygirl at 1:00 PM on February 2, 2011

I generally don't bring a purse into job interviews but if I did, I would have no hesitation at all about bringing a white one. And if the interviewer actually judged me on my purse color, that would definitely be a place where I wouldn't want to work!

Same. I have a quite expensive white handbag that I carry year round and always get compliments on.

I would guess this has to do with the old-fashioned rules about not wearing white in winter.
posted by something something at 1:00 PM on February 2, 2011

dontjumplarry has it; white leather (in particular) either says "garden party/summer cruise," "60s go-go dancer," or "hooker." It just does. Part of it is probably that full-on white leather is so attention-grabbing, and professional wear is more muted.

(Personally, I don't even bother with white pumps in the summer, which are easier than white purses; it's too hard to make them look classy or professional (as required), so I go straight to bone or ivory.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:18 PM on February 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's a British thing. White handbags, as well as (more particularly) white women's high-heeled shoes and cheap gold 'bling' are part of a cultural stereotype - one which includes as a subset the 'Essex Girl'. The stereotype is essentially 'promiscuous, working-class, poorly educated women with a tendency to drink to the point of blacking out at weekends'. Obviously there are strong suggestions of class snobbery and misogynism in the stereotype, but it's nevertheless a trope that was widely promulgated in the media, particularly (I think) in the 90s. You don't hear or read much about the stereotype now (fashions change), but it's still very much ingrained into people's thinking.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 1:21 PM on February 2, 2011 [5 favorites]

A white or brightly-colored handbag is youthful, trendy, casual, and generally unprofessional-looking. Depending on the environment it might not be a big deal, but I can see how in certain professional settings it would be considered inappropriate.

The Labor Day rule normally applies only to shoes, so if it's at play here it's due to somebody's overzealous fashion policing.
posted by milk white peacock at 1:24 PM on February 2, 2011

"The Labor Day rule normally applies only to shoes"

It also applies only to Americans ... the Duchess of York wore white shoes after Labor Day on a U.S. visit one time, and there was a huge media firestorm over it. The consensus was that someone should have told her not to wear white shoes, but that only Americans could be held responsible to the rule.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:27 PM on February 2, 2011

Common, innit? A bit Essex. Or is that white stilettos? Dancing round your handbag was supposed to be the Essex thing, wasn't it?
posted by ComfySofa at 1:27 PM on February 2, 2011

It's got nothing to do with Labor Day, that's for sure. Nobody in the UK knows what or when Labor Day is, let alone what you're allowed or not allowed to wear before, after or during it.
posted by ComfySofa at 1:30 PM on February 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

P.S. -- Labor Day in other countries is usually May 1, only in the U.S. is it in early September, so we don't have communist sympathizers contaminating our workers. And "Remembrance Day" in European countries is usually November 11, not the last Monday in May. So the American shoe rule of no white between Labor Day and Memorial Day would make even less sense in Europe, confining them to white shoes between November and May and forbidding them in the summer!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:31 PM on February 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm not besmirching your husband's abilities as an eyewitness, but could she have said "white pants" and he either mis-heard or was only half paying attention anyway? (I would only half pay attention at rules for male interviewees, so I totally understand if this was the case!)

Because I can totally see someone saying "there's a problem with women wearing white pants to an interview, if you know what I mean," and a room full of ladies would definitely nod their heads and say "Mm hm" in agreement.

(Spoiler alert: it's 'cause white pants will make you have your period, regardless of where you are in your cycle. Triple fast if you wear them to something important like a job interview.)
posted by ErikaB at 1:33 PM on February 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

A white purse (dress, or shoes) loudly proclaims: "My person has the means to avoid soiling and/or get this item clean. And I suppose you don't."

Now, most of us can't hear purses (or dresses, or shoes) talk, but the folks who can get really upset when the purses (dresses, shoes) makes a statement about the owners attitude.

The attitude implied here is, "I don't actually need this job," or worse, "I'm not setting my bag on your filthy ________."

Think about it, on what kinds of surfaces do you set your handbag?
posted by bilabial at 1:34 PM on February 2, 2011

I don't know about the UK but in my southern, mid-century experience, there were a lot of rules about proper dress. I remember when seamless stockings were scandalous. White was, at best, cruise wear. As for shoes and handbags, white was pretty much inappropriate. Beige if you must, but never white. City daytime and business wear required black or near black shoes and handbag. White was considered tacky; I don't know why; you didn't ask questions about tacky.

These rules and judgments, of course, were class-based and ridiculously rigid but I daresay even today people would easily understand--to put the shoe on the other foot-- that a man would raise eyebrows by wearing white socks with a business suit to an important interview.
posted by Anitanola at 1:36 PM on February 2, 2011

I think la mort de bea arthur has it right. I remember talk in the UK about Essex girls and white boots. Maybe it extends to handbags too. My headmistress told me that the price tag on the bottom of my shoe (ok, i didn't notice) made me look like a prostitute. I guess UK school heads are comfortable making generalizations that could very likely cause big problems in a US school?
posted by bquarters at 1:37 PM on February 2, 2011

I think I understand this. It think that it is quite UK specific and that a lot of the speculations from US-based posters above are missing the cultural background. There are a few interrelated ideas here, many of which have been mentioned above:

(1) I would agree with the comments above that this is a common part of the stereotype of various (specific) lower-working-class groups: Essex Girls, Chavs, etc.

(2) This plays to a general pattern in the UK over the last few decades of the idea that middle-class/professional/office workers/etc. tend towards darker clothing overall.

(3) Lighter clothing/accessories are more associated with nightlife than working life. As an example there is a (slightly dated) thing about "dancing around your handbag" which would definitely bring to mind a white handbag.
posted by Jabberwocky at 1:38 PM on February 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Presumably to an interview you wear a suit or possibly a dress or slacks and a sweater, right? It's considered most professional to wear a darker colored suit, preferably black, navy, or a darker gray, same goes with the dress or the slacks. A white handbag doesn't go with any of these.
posted by elpea at 1:44 PM on February 2, 2011

White handbags are considered to be tacky.

A quick Google for white+handbag+tacky.

It does bring to mind the Essex Girl stereotype. It's probably a case of cheap white handbags being popular with Essex Girls, which then corrupted white handbags for everybody else.

One of the main stereotypes of Essex Girls was that they went to nightclubs and danced in circles around their white handbags, wearing white stilettos or white ankle boots.
posted by goshling at 1:46 PM on February 2, 2011

Erika B: could she have said "white pants"

1. White handbags are definitely considered to be tacky by certain people.
2. Unless usage has changed over the past few years, in the UK "pants" refers to underwear, not trousers/slacks/jeans/etc and if the interviewee had been displaying her pants at the job interview, then the headmistress would have a had a much more salacious story to tell.
posted by goshling at 2:03 PM on February 2, 2011

I will say that I've yet to see a white leather handbag that didn't look kinda cheap

This. White jewelry is also considered tacky.

Except for pearls, of course.
posted by jgirl at 2:28 PM on February 2, 2011

Well, this has all been quite fascinating!

I begin to see now how this might make sense. If by "white handbag" we mean a particular type of white handbag (not just any bag, such as the kind of satchely, messenger-bag types I personally favour, which is any shade of white), it does indeed become more comprehensible how that might conceivably create a certain sort of impression at a certain sort of interview. However, I would still imagine that this was a borderline, controversial case rather than something to be held up as the very exemplar of What Not To Do At An Interview, which was how it was presented. I didn't know about the white handbag = trashy thing, but even if I did, I think I'd only equate the two if there were other corroborating signs of trashiness: on its own it wouldn't be enough evidence for me, personally. Also, I can't help thinking that if only the ladies would know what she meant, then surely it isn't that big a deal...?

I suppose I can't help finding this sort of thing a little bit depressing. The fact that I had no idea what a white handbag suggested about a person makes me wonder how many things I wear carry associations to which I am completely oblivious and what people are thinking about me as a consequence of them. (No kidding, I didn't even know about the white socks thing...) I agree with Ashley801, lovelygirl and something something: if an interviewer turned me down on the grounds of the colour of my handbag, I'm not sure I'd be that sorry I didn't get the job.

Now please tell me about this "not wearing white after Labour Day" thing of which I had never heard before this thread (the only rule I know about not wearing white relates to not wearing white to weddings, which I've always thought a bit ridiculous itself). What is the rationale behind it?
posted by raspberry-ripple at 2:36 PM on February 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Now please tell me about this "not wearing white after Labour Day" thing of which I had never heard before this thread

The idea is that white shoes/clothing/purses/straw hats are appropriate only for the US summer resort season, which is traditionally Memorial Day (last Monday in May) through Labor Day (first Monday in September).

Back In Ye Olde Day, young ruffians used to punch their fists through the straw hats of men who were sporting them post-Labor Day.

Behind that? Conformity.

It also used to be a tradition in England, at least (don't know about the rest of the UK). The English season when it was comme il faut to wear straw hats and cricket flannels for men and white shoes/clothing/purses for women was also May-September; if you read 19th and early 20th century novels by silver-fork writers like Mrs. Humphrey Ward to Angela Thirkell, you'll see references to people's gaucherie in wearing straw hats in October or similar.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:46 PM on February 2, 2011

raspberry-ripple, the "No white after Labor Day" is, at least where I live (FL) completely outdated. That doesn't mean people go around wearing white all the time, because it is a rather unflattering color for many, especially those with extra weight.

But nobody here would raise an eyebrow if you did wear white.

I'm glad this is so, because I would personally have a hard time living somewhere where people assume so much on so little. Really, to make a judgment about someone because they are wearing a certain color, regardless of what time of year it is, just seems incredibly petty to me.
posted by misha at 2:47 PM on February 2, 2011

American here so I can't comment on chavs, Essex Girls (I don't even know what the latter is...), etc., but I would never carry a white purse to an interview because it wouldn't look right with any of my suits (which are black, navy, and gray - I am not normally a super conservative dresser, but I definitely go as business/professional as possible when I am interviewing). A white bag just seems extremely casual.
The weddings rule is so as not to draw attention from the bride. I've seen it done once or twice, but it does come off as a bit rude.
posted by naoko at 3:35 PM on February 2, 2011

So, I don't know, maybe 50-something women are holding a white-purse bias that we don't know about? posted by coupdefoudre at 2:59 PM on February 2]

Yeah, no, we're all not.
posted by thinkpiece at 4:37 PM on February 2, 2011

Would it differ or remain the same if one is going in for an interview in the fashion or arts industry?
posted by lovelygirl

The fashion industry and some sectors of the arts conform to their own standards for appropriate interview and day-to-day work attire. Fashion especially.
posted by asciident at 7:36 PM on February 2, 2011

Essex Girls (I don't even know what the latter is...), etc.,

When I lived in England people compared them to "Jersey Girls" ie "Jersey Shore" nowadays ( no judgement luv ya Snooki).
posted by sweetkid at 9:42 PM on February 2, 2011

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