In the US, one of the most characteristic summer fabrics is Seersucker. Used for slacks, jackets, shorts and suits, it not only comes in the original color of blue and white but also in a range of other colors. This guide is all about seersucker so you will know exactly what to look for the next time you are in the market for a summer suit.
For the most comprehensive seersucker experience, please watch the video below and read the guide.
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 can be bright yellow, Granny Smith green, pink, etc. What makes seersucker special is its puckered texture. This look is achieved by pulling individual warp yarns tighter than others. This process is also known as a 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, although I have never found anyone who could explain this theory to me in a convincing manner. If you have better sources, please leave a comment below.
While cotton is the number one material used in seersucker production, it remains unclear what materials were originally used. It seems as though 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 also wider versions with stripes up to 5 mm (1/5″) thickness. Both are fine, although the latter one will look bolder while the thinner stripe resembles the look of a solid color from a distance.
As with so many other garments or specific clothing items, it ‘s hard to pinpoint the birth of the seersucker fabric to a certain date.
Originally, seersucker fabric was rooted in India. At the time the country was ruled by the Mughal, Persian was the official language at court. Consequently, Persian was integrated into the local languages and 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 the turn of the century. For example, politician John Garner of Texas supposedly wore seersucker suits at that time. Joseph 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, one 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 the 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 before the association of seersucker with 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.
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 a 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) and there is a small group from the US Congress which celebrates an 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 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.
Go With Single Breasted
Most seersucker 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.
However, some men want to stand out from the crowd and opt for either a three-piece single breasted seersucker suit or a double breasted coat. If you easily overheat, you should definitely stick with the single breasted seersucker jacket without a vest.
Most seersucker suits come with a center vent, notched lapels and flap pockets. Considering that the origin of the center jacket vent comes from horseback riding, it makes more sense to get side vents because they are more flattering to the wearer, especially when sitting or reaching into a pocket.
While flap pockets are fine for office suits, patch pockets are preferable if you want to wear the jacket or suit in casual situations because it suits the character of the fabric very well.
For the same reason, notched lapels are much better than peaked lapels because the latter are too formal for such a fabric.
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 attractive 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.
In recent years, solid seersucker fabrics in navy as well as checks and plaids have found their way into men’s garments. If you already have the basic blue and white or beige and white covered, and you live in a hot climate it’s certainly worth considering. Otherwise, starting with the classics is probably best because you will be able to combine them with with your white shirts and summer accessories.
Personally, I wear seersucker suits but more often I wear my seersucker pants with a summer sport coat or blazer because these ensembles are less flashy but nevertheless distinctly summery and unique.
Also, when I am traveling the lightweight seersucker suit in combination with a sport coat allows for various combinations with minimal weight.
Seersucker goes particularly well with summer accessories due to its warm weather heritage.
For shirts, an open weave summer fabric is best and white is the classic standard that I wear most of the time. If you prefer, light blue, pink, or other pastel tones may work as well, although white looks crisp and reflects the sunlight.
Instead of cotton you can also go with linen or linen blends, just make sure not to use too many accents because a seersucker is already bolder than other fabrics.
Neckwear – Bow Ties Or Knit Ties
Bow ties are probably the most popular neckwear choice, especially for the Kentucky Derby. Rather than a plain silk bow ties, blends in linen, cotton and silk look much better with seersucker.
If you prefer to wear a necktie with your seersucker outfit, go for something summery and a bit more unusual, such as a linen tie or a knit tie. Madras is a wonderful pattern and if you want to go with stripes, makes sure they are wide in order to create a contrast to the fine stripe of the fabric. Solid pink, red or navy ties may also look good, as dopolka dots or even club ties. Just make sure not to overdo it!
Shoes – White Bucks, Brown or Spectators
With regards to shoes, the classic white buckskin Oxford is the most traditional choice. While it looks dapper, you will definitely stand out with them. Personally, I always mix up the shoelace colors of my white bucks so the ensemble looks different every time without being flashy.
Alternatively, spectators can work well, although those are even bolder than white bucks. A Beige seersucker looks great with tan brown spectators, whereas a blue and white seersucker looks terrible with a black and white spectator because black is too harsh and not casual enough for seersucker.
For the same reason, plain black shoes should be avoided as well.
If you want to go really casual with your seersucker pants or shorts, boat shoes are a good companion. In that case, a madras belt is something to consider as well.
Of course, boutonnieres are a fantastic way to add that special touch to your seersucker suit. It’s summer, so go out and pick a fresh one — but make sure that it doesn’t lose pollen and stain your lapel and that it doesn’t wilt after five minutes.
For a natural looks without the risk of stains, take a look at our selection of boutonnieres here.
Panama hats make for a stylish companion, but classic sunglasses with brown frames will do fine as well. On the other hand, mirrored Oakley sunglasses will ruin your seersucker look.
Now, good luck finding your personal seersucker suit and let us know what you get in the comments or, better yet, send us a picture!