The sight of professional painters decked out in white overalls is a familiar one to many people. Perhaps you’ve pondered just why painters wear white? The reasons behind painters’ sartorial choices is not easily verifiable, but it’s fun to explore nonetheless.
The actual name for a painting professionals’ wardrobe is “painter’s whites.” White canvas or denim pants, white t-shirt, overalls, and a white cap are often worn by painters. The idea of wearing white may date back to the 1700s, when there were not a variety of house colors available. As a result, white was the primary choice of paint at this time. If white paint were to be dripped on a white uniform, it wouldn’t be readily noticed before laundering.
Painters also used to mix 50 pounds of “white lead powder” with a can of paint paste to make about two gallons of paint. The mixing process produced large amounts of white dust. To hide the dust, the painters wore white.
It is also believed that some painters crafted clothing from the white sails from ships.
Another theory behind painters’ preference for white work gear traces its origins to 19th century union painters. Those in the union adopted the all-white uniform to differentiate themselves from non-union painters. Sometimes a black bow tie was added to complete the professional presentation.
There are some practical reasons for painters to wear white. White clothing tends to be cooler when working outdoors or in sunny locations. Should painter’s whites become dirty, they’re easily bleachable without the color fading. Also, white is a pristine color that will present the appearance of cleanliness. Homeowners may readily invite and trust a clean worker into their homes to get the job done.
Painters often find that their business logo stands out sharply against the white of a uniform, which can be another practical reason to don some white overalls. White clothing also can be less expensive to replace.
Today, because there are many other paint hues available, painter’s whites may not be so pristine. But those variously shaded specks and splatters may be indicative of a seasoned professional who has put in many hours on the job.
Painters have long worn white as their unofficial uniform. The theories as to why vary, but the tradition is likely here to stay.