Painters would wear white to hide paint and by-product splatter. Legend has it that back in the late 19th century union painters adopted the all white uniform to set themselves apart from the non-union painters. This became their symbol of professionalism and they often added a black bow tie just to enhance the professional look. At the end of the day if the painter came off a job with little paint on their clothing it would suggest that they were skilled. Oddly enough, this same theory has shifted today. When you see a painter with several colors on their whites it suggests a seasoned veteran of the trade. Nowadays if you see a painter in a perfectly white uniform it usually means it’s his very first day on the job. Further, white is a symbol of cleanliness. It leaves the impression the painter is going to do a nice, neat and tidy job without getting paint all over himself and everything else.
A more general consensus is that painters began wearing whites because the vast majority of the materials they use are white—not just paint, but many of the preparation materials too like primer, caulk, spackle, plaster, and drywall repair dust. Not to mention the historical aspect, many hues from the spectrum of paint shades we’re accustomed to now were unheard of centuries ago when white was virtually the only color available for the interiors and exteriors of buildings. Invariably, these materials find their way onto even the most meticulous painter’s clothing, so the white backdrop provides the best chance to hide drips and splatter.
White is Cool! As in, its primary schools knowledge that the darker the colour the more heat is absorbed so it becomes logic if we’re gonna stand out in the Aussie sun painting in all these clothes, let’s do it in white ‘cause the sun’s beating down as always.
There is a certain logic to wearing white, especially considering that painters have been wearing white since before air conditioning became a part of every building.
Even after AC went mainstream, white was still a better idea. When painting outdoors, there is no escaping the sun, even in the shade when it’s hot enough.
Painters wearing white can be seen like a subconscious warning to a passerby. If you see a painter, you tend not to touch anything. Touching the wet paint is a no-no. When folks see the white overalls, it signals a level of awareness subconsciously. So seeing white overalls sends alarm bells to the brain - here could be open buckets or trays of paint, precarious ladders, brushes or wet walls. So apparently, white reminds us to snap out of our fog, at least until someone can put up the wet paint signs. Then again, there always seems to be 'that one' who ignores those signs and sit on the bench anyway. tsk tsk.
Last but not least - painters are now proud of this status quo so why not continue with the legend?