When you imagine a professional painter, an image of an individual dressed all in white immediately comes to mind. But why do painters wear all white? It started for good reasons and continues today out of tradition. We’ll take a look at a few other reasons behind the all-white painter’s uniform.

#1 White Sets Apart Union and Nonunion Painters

White was declared the official union color to distinguish members of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, established in the 19th century.

Today, you can see professional painters wearing white even if they aren’t part of a union.

#2 White Clothing Is the Most Affordable Fabric

Before becoming anything else, fibers for cloth start out white (or close to it). White clothing is cheaper and much simpler for manufacturers to produce.

Dye is added later in the process to create clothing of different hues. If you are going to wear something that eventually will be covered in paint, then why add any expense — no matter how small — that comes with buying clothing of any other color?

#3 White Is Generally the Base Color of Paint

Before walking up to the paint counter at your local home repair store was an option, painters used a white lead powder to mix with a paint paste to make paint. This white powder would create quite a mess, which meant wearing white made the most sense. Regardless of whether you’re mixing your own paint, wearing white makes sense if you’re going to end up splattered at the end of a job anyway.

When you pick out a paint color these days, the base is usually still white. If you want to mix any other colors, it’s done by adding combinations of colors.

Centuries ago, white was one of the only options available when it came to painting. That meant all the materials that painters would use also came in white, including plaster, drywall repair, spackle, primer and caulk.

#4 Wearing White Represents Cleanliness

Traditionally, the color white represents cleanliness. Think of a sterile hospital, a traditional bridal gown or the linens at a fine restaurant. They are all white.

Colors create emotions. If you’re going to have someone in your home to complete a job, then chances are you want them to walk in looking clean and professional.

#5 Wearing White Keeps You Cool

White reflects and beats the heat. Painting is hard work, and the last thing you want is to be in a uniform that makes it even harder to stay cool. When painting outdoors, wearing white is one of the only ways to escape the sun.

Before air conditioning existed, painting houses white kept the houses cooler. Painters caught onto the logic and a white uniform became part of the painting industry.

#6 A White Uniform Is a Warning for Wet Paint

When entering a construction zone, it’s safe to say if you see an individual dressed all in white up on a ladder, you’d immediately be conscious of what you lean up against or touch.

Painters wearing white are easily picked out among other professionals when working in the same area. Before spotting a “wet paint” sign, seeing white uniforms signals a warning to keep away from the walls and avoid leaving a handprint on a freshly painted surface.

#7 Wearing White Is a Tradition

Ultimately, tradition is the main reason painters still wear white uniforms. Simply put, white painters’ uniforms have become an association that society recognizes and accepts.

Years ago, painters were judged on their proficiency at a job by how painted their uniforms were. If a painter was hired and showed up in a new white uniform, it meant the painter had less experience and would not complete the job as well.

 

Wearing a white uniform to paint in has become the industry norm — so much so that wearing a white long-sleeve shirt, a pair of canvas “painter’s pants” or overalls and a white cap is now referred to as “painter’s whites.”

A painter is standing next to a ladder using a brush to paint the wall

Now You Know Why Painters Wear White Uniforms

Painters started wearing white uniforms for a number of reasons, and they continue to do so today for many of the same reasons. White uniforms hide white paint stains and the color keeps you cool. It is a clean color and looks professional upon arriving at a job. Union or nonunion, painters carry on the tradition of wearing white. Wearing an all-white uniform (or painter’s whites) simply makes sense for the painting profession.

Sources

https://www.iupat.org/about-us/our-history/

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/dyeing-process. (2012). Colour Design.

https://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/white-lead. (April 2021). The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

https://www.livescience.com/33523-color-symbolism-meanings.html. (2011).

https://sciencing.com/colors-absorb-heat-8456008.html. (April 2018).