A short post on the question that all men aren’t asking at the moment,
“what should I wear, when the warmer weather is upon us, that will be both stylish and comfortable?”
Well, the answer to that vitally unimportant question is; Seersucker.
While the origins of the fabric are to be found in Asia, the colonial British found it to be a perfect fabric for the hot and humid Indian climate and gave the material its anglicised moniker; perhaps due to their inability to pronounce the Persian “shir shakar” or the fact that the translation (milk and sugar) doesn’t sound very wearable. Various sources state that the cloth was originally made of silk (I suppose this would fit with the location of the etymological origin), although by the time the Brits were wearing it for high tea, it had become a predominantly cotton based garment.
The prevalence of seersucker was never really going to happen in the dank and dreary suburbs of Victorian GB, yet it did take a hold in one of the former colonies, namely the USA and more precisely, the hot, temperate southern States. How it got from the Eastern part of the Empire to the southern States, where it gained its greatest popularity, is difficult to determine, although a 2006 book (1) states that members of the Confederate Zouaves and Louisiana Tigers used the fabric for trousers, so it was certainly in use as a clothing fabric in the late 1800’s. The cheap, durable and relatively easy to clean seersucker became staple feature in American industrial workwear throughout the early part of the century, this later being immortalised on cinema screens by the character of Casey Jones (Jonathan Luther “Casey” Jones 1863-1900).
The dates of origin of more formal dress, and the wearers, seem disputable with 1886 (2), 1903 (in the presence of Roosevelt, no less) and 1907 being offered as dates where we first see seersucker being worn in North America, as a sartorial statement. Even though the dates are ambiguous, the wearers are not; they are described as “gentlemen”, the inference being that the garments were being worn by men of affluence and influence, I should add southern Gentlemen of affluence and influence.
As the first decades of the 20th century came to an end, the Ivy League style, the favoured “uniform” of students of the 9 educational institutions of the northeastern United States that became the basis of what is now known as “preppy fashion”, saw the well to do offspring of the upper echelons of American society assimilating the durable and lightweight fabric into their wardrobes, primarily as jackets or blazers. The bright, lightweight and breathable fabric fitted seamlessly into the athletic theme of their simple yet stylish ensemble.
Popular filmic history has been, mainly, kind to seersucker and its portrayal in literature is often used as that of the attire of the protagonist (the John Grisham novel, Camino Island springs readily to mind). It brings a lightness into whatever scenario it appears and deserves its place in the Summer wardrobe of any stylish gentleman, southern or otherwise.
So that’s a potted history of seersucker, from the Persian Gulf to the northeastern US via the Gulf of Mexico in 400(ish) words; now to answer that question.
A well made seersucker jacket should be an indispensable item for any gentleman’s Summer wardrobe. The tailoring should be relaxed and even seem a little unrefined, there should not be a lining, for instance, to give it that throw on wearability. We all know that linen makes for fine Summer wear but in my opinion, a blazer or jacket of seersucker is easily as good at withstanding the toils of perspiration, the climatic ranges between humid and arid and is several notches above linen in the style stakes. Personally, I favour the classic blue/white design with broad stripes as this can be worn with almost any combination of trousers, shirt and shoes but other colours would be to your own, personal preference.
A seersucker suit is akin to double denim, so if you’re going to attempt it you must either go all in and get a three piece ( à la Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird”) or plan to spend the whole day a mere pebble throw from the nearest Margharita Bar, as otherwise one could end up looking like a US politician trying way too hard to be cool.
And finally, seersucker reached such dizzying heights of sartorial importance that it even gained its own National Day in the US (sometime in June, apparently) but don’t let that put you off wearing it.
Here’s something to help celebrate a versatile and stylish fabric. Cheers!
2 oz. Flor de Caña white rum
1/2 oz. cinnamon-bark syrup
1 oz. lemon juice
1 1/2 strawberries
Muddle one strawberry in a cocktail shaker, and add rum, syrup, lemon juice, and three ice cubes. Shake, and strain drink into a pilsner glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with a half strawberry.
This cocktail was created by mixologist Brian Miller, of New York City’s Death and Co. (433 East 6th Street, 212-388-0882), in United States Senate Seersucker Day.
- Troiani, Don; Coates, Earl J.; McAfee, Michael J. (2006). Don Troiani’s Civil War Zouaves, Chasseurs, Special Branches, and Officers. Stackpole Books – via Google Books.
- Lydia Blackmore, decorative arts curator, The Historic New Orleans Collection https://www.hnoc.org/publications/first-draft/distinctly-new-orleans-story-seersucker-and-why-it%E2%80%99s-not-quite-true
(c) Andy Collinsson 2020