This Is Why Painters Wear White

The color choice isn't quite as illogical as you'd think.

This Is Why Painters Wear White
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Uniforms have purpose. Take the firefighter’s uniform, for example, with its thick fabric and visor-equipped helmet that protects workers against extensive smoke and heat exposure. Or the nurse’s uniform, which ensures that they remain clean, not to mention distinguishable from the rest of the medical personnel on staff, no matter the facility. And, just like those iconic uniforms, the painter’s all-white overalls have a purpose too.

To be sure, the color choice doesn’t exactly seem logical: why wear all white when your day job involves dealing with a veritable Crayola box of colors that splash onto it? But, if you take it from the experts, though the exact origin remains unknown, the painter’s uniform color choice is mostly due to historical context and practicality.

Charlie Worrall, the digital marketing executive at Imaginaire Digital, a U.K.-based design firm, theorizes that painters, dating back to the 19th century, began wearing white to accentuate the fact that they belonged to the painter’s union, the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades.

“After a while, this adopted a symbol of professionalism to both painters and customers,” he says. “What’s more, it was a sort of telltale factor that if a decorator had finished a job and managed to only get a little paint on them, they were very skilled and a recommended professional.”

Then, according to Kristen Chuber, the senior director of marketing at Paint Zen, the Dickies brand was created in 1922 to cater to the uniform needs of the professional painter and everyday worker. The baggy white overalls worn by painters for nearly a hundred years have grown to become the defining product of this brand.

Outside of the historical theories circulating about the creation of this uniform, there are also many practical reasons why painters wear white. For starters, according to Chuber, wearing white helps the painters easily disguise the grime that accumulates on their clothing. Another—perhaps more practical—reason is house painters deal with white spackle, white paint, and drywall a lot. With white clothing, these materials won’t be as noticeable,” she says.

There’s one practical safety reason painters wear white. Since the gig often requires working outside in brutally hot temperatures and blaring sun, and since white is the coolest shade on the color spectrum—meaning it reflects light and heat, as opposed to absorbing it, as a dark shade would—painters get a slight reprieve from the heat.

But perhaps the most compelling argument for the painter’s white uniform is put forth by Chuber, who claims that, unlike the pristine requirements for the original union uniforms, 21st-century painters take pride in their paint-splattered digs. “Today, if a painter’s clothes have more colors and stains on them, it means they’re more experienced because they’ve done more painting jobs,” says Chuber. And for a deeper look at white clothing, here’s The Real Reason You Shouldn’t Wear White After Labor Day.

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