The dictionary lists one sense of 'whites' as white clothing. But no parallel sense is listed for 'reds' and other color words. I am wondering whether this sense of 'whites' can be generalized to other color words, so that 'reds' means 'red clothing' and 'blacks' means 'black clothing', etc.

I'd appreciate your help.

  • From the OED: 2 a. Black clothing, esp. that worn as a sign of mourning. Also in pl. (now Sc.) and occas. with the sense ‘black or dress trousers’. So blacks used to mean black clothing, especially that worn for mourning. And "the blue and the gray" often refers to Civil War uniforms. Commented May 30, 2016 at 13:37
  • 1
    Generally, "whites" is a "thing" because people separate their white clothes to wash them with bleach. The opposite is "darks" or "colors." You can also speak of "delicates," which, while not a color, are a specific category of laundry (gentler cycle). That being said, other colors can be used this way if they are a specific category: a baseball team's "road grays," as the home team usually wears white, and the away team, gray. The Cincinnati Reds wear uniforms with red lettering, and red socks and caps. The Cleveland Browns football team, however, was named after founder Paul Brown. Commented May 30, 2016 at 14:24
  • Tennis whites, let's not forget. And navy blues also come to mind. Both of which are uses one sees unrelated to laundry.
    – Lambie
    Commented May 30, 2016 at 14:27
  • @PeterShor ~ I thought the term for black clothes was 'weeds'? Commented May 30, 2016 at 14:32

1 Answer 1


Whites is used to mean "white clothing", while coloreds (and sometimes darks) is used to mean "non-white clothing" (sense 2, here).

These uses have conventionalized to the point where they are included in dictionaries. The reason they have conventionalized is because there is a standard reason to employ them: people regularly divide their laundry into white laundry and colored laundry.

The use of 'reds' or 'blues' in such a manner is not conventional, and thus not mentioned in dictionaries. This is because people do not characteristically wash just red or blue clothing. There is thus little need for this type of use.

That being said you can use colored terms in this way in specific contexts where someone is washing just red or blue laundry. But participants in the conversation should know this or be able to easily infer this. Such a use would be an example of non-conventionalized deferred interpretation.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.