Seer Sucker Colors in Yellow, Orange, Green, Brown, Beige

Seersucker Guide – The Fabric, The Suits & Its Origins

In the US, one of the most characteristic summer fabrics is definitely Seersucker.  Used for slacks, jackets and suits, it not only comes in the original color of blue and white, but also in a range of other colors. Today, I want to share about this summer classic to make sure you know what to look for the next time you are in the market for a summer suit.

What Exactly Is Seersucker?

Today, seersucker is considered to be a  puckered, striped, lightweight cotton fabric. The most widespread version is striped in blue and white, although there are many other color combinations.

One stripe is always white, while the partner stripe could be bright yellow, Granny Smith green, pink, etc. What makes seersucker special is its puckered texture. This look is achieved by pulling certain warp yarns tighter than others. This process is also known as slack-tension weave.  As a consequence, the crinkling is permanent and other wrinkles are less visible. Also, it does not require any ironing even though the yarn was not treated to that end. Many claim that the crinkling supposedly facilitates air circulation, though I have never found anyone who could explain this theory to me in a convincing manner. So, if you have better sources, please leave a comment below.

While cotton is the no. 1 material used in seersucker production, it remains unclear what materials were originally used. It seems as if linen and blends of linen and cotton were also used for production. Personally, I think such a blend could make this fabric even more interesting due to the blending of the textures.

Traditionally, the stripes are rather slim, measuring approximately 2 -3mm ( 1/10″) wide; there were are also wider versions with stripes up to 5 mm (1/5″) thickness. Both are absolutely fine, though the latter one will look bolder, while the thinner stripe resembles the look of a solid color from a distance.

Seersucker Thursday at the US Senate

Seersucker Thursday at the US Senate

Seersucker Origins

Like with so many other garments or specific clothing items, it is difficult to pinpoint the birth of the seersucker fabric to a certain date.

Originally, seersucker fabric was rooted in India. Back when the country was ruled by the Mughal, Persian was the official language at court. Consequently, Persian was integrated into the local languages and then shaped both the Urdu and Hindi languages. The term seersucker derives from these languages, referring to the dual tonality of the colors. In fact, “sheer”  means “milk” and “shukkar” means “lesser refined brown cane sugar.” Over time, the word evolved into “seersucker”, and it was first imported to Europe in the 18th century.

In the USA, the fabric started to become popular at turn of the century For example, politician John Garner of Texas supposedly wore seersucker suits at that time.  Jospeh Guerney Cannon broke with protocol when he appeared in front of President Roosevelt in 1903 in a seersucker suit.

In the late 19th century, it was common for visitors to address the President of the United States in a black frock coat. However, during a hot summer day, Cannon decided to wear a seersucker suit. When asked what caused him to break the rules of dress code, he supposedly exclaimed, “the weather was damn  hot!”

Haspel & Seersucker

In the states, seersucker was first mass-produced in New Orleans by Joseph Haspel and his brother. The Haspel company is still one of the leading producers of seersucker garments today. Although the Haspel brothers started their business in 1909 with work wear, they quickly adopted the production of seersucker in the US when they decided to offer a suit  specifically designed for blazing summer heat they were accustomed to living in.

Poor Man’s Suit & A Badge of Affluence

Despite such prominent proponents such as Cannon, the seersucker suit was long considered to be a poor man’s suit. Starting in the late 1930′s, smart Princeton students and Hollywood actors were spotted in seersucker suits and LIFE magazine deemed it acceptable to wear seersucker in the northern part of the US. Subsequently, it was sometimes seen in posh resorts in California and the Bahamas, which certainly helped to promote its now debonair pedigree.

During WWII, the Duke of Windsor was ordered to the Bahamas, where he would not be the target of kidnapping amidst the conflict, and the famous clotheshorse learned to appreciate the seersucker suit. Subsequently, it did not take long until the association of seersucker poverty was transformed into panache and elegance. Writers would proudly wear it in beach settings and dapper men had discovered their new go-to summer suit. The columnist Damon Runyon even attested that wearing seersucker was “a badge of affluence”.

In the 1950′s and 1960′s, seersucker was probably at the height of its popularity in the Southern US, although it had not caught on as quickly in the northern parts of the country.

A number of famous people helped to retain the seersucker suit’s position in the attention of the public. For example, in the mid 1950′s, Miles Davis released his first 12″ LP and on the cover, he posed in a seersucker jacket with a cap. In 1962, Gregory Peck wore a seersucker suit in the famous movie To Kill a Mockingbird.

However, with the introduction of air conditioning to office buildings and homes, the seersucker suit lost its appeal even in the Southern parts of the US. Even the introduction of  lighter synthetic fibers could not staunch the decline.

Seersucker Today

Nevertheless, outside the US the seersucker suit is often considered to be quintessentially American. Ironically, it is not seen on the streets very often anymore and if so, one easily becomes the center of attention. Today, there are only few events left that promote the seersucker tradition. The St. Jude Classic golf tournament has a Seersucker Sunday (where Brooks Brothers provides the winner of the tournament with a seersucker jacket) or the small group from the US Congress which celebrates the annual Seersucker Thursday. In the late 1996, Senator Trent Lott from Mississippi picked a hot day in June and encouraged his peers to wear seersucker in order to bring some Southern flair to Congress. Ever since, a number of senators – male and female – participated in this young tradition until June 20, 2012. One day before the Seersucker Thursday 2012, the Senate cloakroom’s staff notified members that the custom was being discontinued because Lott’s former colleagues were convinced it would be politically unwise to be seen “doing something frivolous” while there were so many conflicts over major issues. Outside of such events, you will hardly ever see a politician in the US wearing a seersucker suit.

Apart from that, seersucker suits are sometimes seen at garden parties and weddings in the summer, especially in the south, but it would be wrong to claim that many Americans wear seersucker suits anymore.

How to Buy Seersucker

First of all, you should make sure that you acquire a real seersucker fabric with an irregular warp. You can usually distinguish the real deal from the chemical fake by the degree and characteristic of the puckering in the fabric.

You can still buy seersucker off the rack from a number of companies, including the American seersucker pioneer Haspel as well as Brooks Brothers.

Most suits today are single breasted with either two or three buttons; they usually come without a vest. This makes perfect sense because you want to wear as little fabric as possible during summer.

While blue and white are certainly the most classic colors (they probably represent 90% of the market share), there are various other colors including pink, lime green, yellow or beige that make for interesting alternatives. Of course, you will draw even more attention if you go with bright colors; some eccentrics will even go so far as to wear a double breasted seersucker suit with a matching seersucker vest.

Personally, I prefer to wear my seersucker pants with different jackets because these ensembles are less flashy but nevertheless distinctly summery and unique.

Accessories

In terms of accessories for seersucker, I find white summer shirts to be the best companion. Paired with a colorful mogador or madras necktie or bow tie and a pocket square, one definitely looks the part. Solid pink, red or navy ties may also look good, just like polka dots or even club ties. Just make sure not to overdo it!

With regards to shoes, I find that brown or tan shoes are an excellent option. Alternatively, white shoes or brown white/ off white spectators are possible though I think they look better with just a seersucker jacket rather than a suit, but as always, each to his own.

Panama hats make for a stylish companion, but sunglasses with brown frames will do fine as well.

Now, good luck finding your personal seersucker suit and let me know what you get in the comments or, better yet,  send me a picture!

21 replies
  1. Stirling Matheson
    Stirling Matheson says:

    The puckering would allow for more air-flow through the fabric by virtue of increased surface area. The maximum amount of air is per square inch of fabric, and there are more square inches of fabric per square inch of skin with seersucker.

    • Sven Raphael Schneider
      Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      Dear Stirling, thanks for attempting to explain. However, seersucker is generally extremely tightly woven and I experience hardly any airflow. A Fresco creates much more airflow in my opinion. To me, your theory seems plausible for pc coolers or for the amount of skin, but I am not sure whether a larger surface makes for more airflow. Much rather, larger holes would create more airflow, wouldn’t they?

      • Stirling Matheson
        Stirling Matheson says:

        Think of it like an HVAC filter: they’re corrugated. Because of the corrugation you can fit about 12 square feet of filter into six square feet of frame. The maximum airflow of the filter material can be expressed in cubic feet of air per minute per square foot. Basically, By cramming twice as much filter into the frame so that it does not overlap — which would reducing airflow — the number of holes in the fabric is doubled.

        While seersucker might be very tightly woven, there are a lot of small holes because of the increased surface area. Come to think of it, the puckering probably holds the fabric away from the lining or skin, as the case may be, which would also facilitate airflow by virtue of aloowing it to flow freely around the fabric not only on the outside, but the inside as well.

        • Sven Raphael Schneider
          Sven Raphael Schneider says:

          Thanks Stirling for trying so hard. While it may be correct in theory, I would love to test a plain fabric in the same fabric against the seersucker against a fresco and see what fabric comes out on top. Right now, I would say the fresco. I do have two similar fabrics – one is seersucker, the other is not – but they are just similar and so a comparison is difficult.
          Btw, lining in seersucker pants would be counter productive imo.

          • Stirling Matheson
            Stirling Matheson says:

            Now I want to do a scientific test of various suiting fabrics… that could make a good article.

            Lining seersucker pants: I do think that would be madness. Jackets usually are lined, though.

  2. Herr Doktor
    Herr Doktor says:

    I can attest to the absolute comfort and good looks of Seersucker. Appropriate for the office particularly in the South. Mine is from Haspel and the cut is perfect. Looks great with a Madras Bow Tie or Navy Polka Dot long tie. Great article.

  3. Ahmed Sajeel
    Ahmed Sajeel says:

    Interesting as always … and thank you for incorporating the origins of the term, as we’d discussed.

  4. Ahmed Sajeel
    Ahmed Sajeel says:

    Oh … the rest you’ve covererd most ably :-)

    Meanwhile I’ll carry on with my quest for a suitable length of fabric

  5. Gernot_Freiherr_von_Donnerbalken
    Gernot_Freiherr_von_Donnerbalken says:

    ” Amerika, du hast es besser.” ( ‘America, you are better off.’, J.W. von Goethe )

    Who couldn’t agree more living in a country where a suit of aforementioned fabric is hardly available :-( ?

  6. Gernot_Freiherr_von_Donnerbalken
    Gernot_Freiherr_von_Donnerbalken says:

    By the way: the outfit with the greenish grey fresco coat combined with seersucker pants looks excellent.

  7. Lendyl Garcia
    Lendyl Garcia says:

    I think that seersucker materials make for good casual suiting, don’t like it for formal occasions. I personally like the green!

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