Easter is only days away and like many Southerners, I look forward to celebrating the life and resurrection of Christ, the blooming of the azalea trees, and yes, the opportunity to wear seersucker. Seersucker is an ideal fabric for the long, dog days of Dixie summers. Here’s its history and how to wear the South’s classic fabric.
What is seersucker?
It’s a 100 percent cotton fabric known for its puckered texture. It has a slightly rumpled or worn look to it, which is part of its charm. Seen mainly in blue and white, seersucker can be found in a variety of colors today. Grey is one of my favorite suit colors and I have several pairs of shorts ranging from blue to green, red and orange.
Originally invented in India as a cotton fabric for the working class in the late 1880s, seersucker also became popular with the American working class railroad engineers in the latter 19th century.
New Orleans haberdasher Joseph Haspel, Sr., the founder of Haspel clothiers in New Orleans, is credited with bringing the seersucker (the Persian definition meaning milk and sugar) suit to America in 1909.
Seeking a fabric that was light and cool and could withstand the humidity of southern Louisiana, Haspel’s introduction of seersucker was not an overnight success. Similar to India, the fabric was still a favorite with the working class folks such as America’s gas station attendants. When worn as a suit, well, it was considered a “poor man’s suit.”
The company was sold in 1977, however, family members reacquired the licensing rights in the mid-1990s and now Laurie Haspel Aronson, the founder’s great-granddaughter oversees the company. The 2018 fashion line of top quality seersucker items can be seen here.
During the 1920’s Ivy Leaguers donned the “candy stripe” material and it became vogue with the fashionable east coast preppies. After Brooks Brothers began selling seersucker suits, the popularity of the fabric skyrocketed. When the Duke of Windsor hid out in the Bahamas during World War II, he often wore the fabric for the reasons intended; it was much cooler than wool or heavy cotton and he exhibited a “dapper” look. In 1945, columnist Damon Runyon declared the seersucker suit “a badge of affluence.”
Throughout the 1950s and 60s, the suit became popular with the southern legal set.
For some reason, Gregory Peck in his role as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, immortalized the seersucker suit as something worn by every southern lawyer lest they be denied entrance to the bar. I am amazed each time I wear a seersucker suit people ask if I am a lawyer. No, all I can lay claim to is being a politician and a writer.
In my humble, southern opinion, wearing seersucker is as much attitude as fabric.
Let me explain. While some men look great in seersucker, others look foolish. Confidence is a huge factor.
Maybe legendary GQ fashion editor Bruce Boyer said it best when he used the term “sprezzatura,” defined as “the art of appearing stylish without any appearance of effort,” in describing why some men wear seersucker so well.
Bottom line is if you think you look good and feel comfortable in seersucker, then, by all means, try it out. If you think you look foolish in one, well, don’t wear it.
Interestingly, seersucker suits can also be found in navy and as a tuxedo in black.
Wearing a seersucker suit, sportcoat, shirt or shorts should be both a function of weather and style. It’s light, comfortable, rarely needs pressing and feels comfortable on bare skin in 90 plus degree southern heat.
As is the case with every suit, quality and fit are key. Haspel still manufactures top-notch jackets and trousers. Quality men’s stores such as Bloomingdale’s, Brooks Brothers and other quality local clothiers carry their line. JoS A. Banks sells several suit, shirt and short colors, however, the material is not near the quality of Haspel or other lines available fine clothing stores.
When does seersucker season begin and end?
Speaking of gentlemanly southern lawyers, Memphis attorney Bill Haltom is such a seersucker fan he penned a must-read book on the subject, “Milk & Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker.” An entire chapter is devoted to parameters such as when to wear it.
“I define seersucker season based on whether you are North or South of the ‘sweet tea’ line,” explained Haltom. “There are basically three schools of thought on the issue. If you live South of the line, it’s Easter through Labor Day. If you live North of the line, the season typically runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day. I do believe the season is part of the allure of seersucker.”
While Haltom and other seersucker purists strictly adhere to the “southern” season, a third group of which I belong will wear seersucker past Labor Day assuming the temperature exceeds 85 degrees. I’ve been known to wear seersucker on hot October days and no one arrested me so I guess I’ll okay. However, I do agree your white bucks should be retired after Labor Day.
What should you wear with a seersucker suit?
Shirts – Like most any suit, seersucker can be dressed up or down. Haltom commonly refers to seersucker as a “casually elegant suit.” For dressing up, I recommend a high-quality, white cotton shirt. Most any collar style is fine but I have to say a button-down collar works well with seersucker. For a slightly more formal look, I recommend a spread collar but make sure you’re wearing the collar that’s right for you and your body. For a more casual look, you can add some color in your shirt. I have a purple button-down shirt with extremely small windowpane design that I like to wear tieless with my grey seersucker suit.
Shoes – For a more conservative or formal look, I recommend black or brown loafers. Keep in mind seersucker is a more casual look so lace up wingtips or cap toes look a bit awkward, at least in my opinion.
The exception here is a pair of brown and white Oxford Brogues.
For a casual, sophisticated summer look, nothing, and I mean nothing, beats a pair of lace-up white bucks, especially while attending the Iroquois Steeplechase near Nashville, TN on a warm May day. On occasion, I’ll wear a pair of dirty bucks too.
Ties – Most any tie that compliments the suit can be worn. I especially like rep (stripped) ties and bow ties (pre-tied not allowed) with seersucker. NOTE: Do Not Wear a seersucker tie with a seersucker suit.
Pocket Squares – Definitely. White linen is a basic go-to but splashes up your look with a colorful silk pocket square. Pre-folded ones not allowed.
Remember, seersucker is a fabric and think of it as such. It’s an excellent warm-weather addition to any wardrobe. Hassle’s 2018 line is geared toward the millennial generation, once again making seersucker a timeless fabric for generations to come.