As far back as most anyone can remember painters have always been known to wear white, but why do painters wear white? Where did it come from? Did a trendy painter one day start the pattern and the rest followed suit? Just like anything is history the answer is a bit of tradition and necessity.
Hundreds of years ago sailors began making pants from the worn out canvas sails of their ships. Noticing the durability of the material and being a thrifty bunch (the old canvas sails were likely free) painters also followed suit. Thus began two groups who today are known for wearing white uniforms.
But that’s not the only reason. Painter’s whites go much further than than that.
Union Painters, Union Whites
In 1887 a new union called the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades was formed and one of the early things they did to distinguish themselves from non-union painters was to decree that all members were to wear white in the practice of their trade.
Just like other workers in other trades had their uniform looks, like railroaders in pinstripes, and golfers in knickerbockers, the painters now had their official look designated as white and it stuck.
But why did they choose white? There are a lot of practical reasons why painters wear white. It may seem an odd choice for a profession that messes around with more colors than the 64 pack of Crayolas we all craved as a kid.
1. Keeping Cool
Painter’s are always working outside. Sure, some get the cake jobs of painting interiors for a while, but painting exteriors is always more common because paint wears out faster outdoors.
Wearing dark colors in the summer heat, when most exterior painting is done, is not a wise decision and so even before white became the official painter’s outfit many painters would wear white and off-white clothes out of necessity to keep cool.
2. 50 Shades of White
Actually Sherwin Williams has over 100 shades of white, but that’s besides the point. Even though we have access to thousands of unique colors today that was not always the case.
Historic paint colors were far more limited than they are today and even today the vast majority of painting work is done in various shades of white.
Since most trim, doors, windows, etc are painted white it makes the most sense to stick with white as their uniform color still today.
3. More Than Paint
Painter are often called on to do far more than just paint. They spackle, patch plaster, sand, prime, caulk, and so much more. If you think about those tasks they all result in white dust or residue that blends in when it gets on their whites.
Keeping and maintaining a clean uniform gives a professional appearance and hiding the mess is the best thing you can do when you can’t avoid it all together.
So why do painters wear white? Now you know. The question is, will you wear white on your job site? I think it lends an appearance of professionalism, but what do you think? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
Founder & Senior Editor
I love old houses, working with my hands, and teaching others the excitment of doing it yourself! Everything is teachable if you only give it the chance.