Seersucker Guide

Seersucker Guide – The Fabric, The Suits & Its Origins

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.

Seersucker Thursday at the US Senate

Seersucker Thursday at the US Senate

Seersucker Origins

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.

Seersucker Today

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.

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

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.

Seersucker Details

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.

Seersucker Colors

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.

Seersucker Combinations

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 Accessories

Seersucker goes particularly well with summer accessories due to its warm weather heritage.

Shirts

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.

Summery Bow Ties for seersucker in Linen, Madras and Silk by Fort Belvedere

Summery Bow Ties for seersucker in Linen, Madras and Silk by Fort Belvedere

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!

Personally, I almost always wear either linen ties or knit ties, because they look classic yet unique and very dapper.

White Bucks with Seersucker and green Fort Belvedere shoelaces

White Bucks with Seersucker and green Fort Belvedere shoelaces

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.

However, brown or tan shoes are also an excellent option, especially suede shoes. Oxfords, derbies or loafers are all equally as well suited.

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.

Madras Belt - ideal for a seersucker outfit

Madras Belt – ideal for a seersucker outfit

White Shirt with patch pocket seersucker suit, and orange and blue pocket square, bow tie and boutonniere by Fort Belvedere

White Shirt with patch pocket seersucker suit, and orange and blue pocket square, bow tie and boutonniere by Fort Belvedere

Pocket Squares

For pocket squares, the same rules apply as for neckwear – go with colors, textures and patterns and fold them the way you like.

Boutonnieres

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 Hat with orange linen bow tie, cornflower boutonniere lapel pin and pocket square by Fort Belvedere

Panama Hat with orange linen bow tie, cornflower boutonniere lapel pin and pocket square by Fort Belvedere

Miscellaneous

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!

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Seersucker Guide - The Fabric, The Suits & Its Origins
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34 replies
  1. 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.

    Reply
    • 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?

      Reply
      • 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.

        Reply
        • 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.

          Reply
          • 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.

            Reply
          • Dr. Kim Richard Palmer says:

            Sven,
            I think that the reason for the cooler feel of seersucker is not because of air flow, but the increase of the evaporative surface area that seersucker provides. With increased fabric area caused by the dimples in the fabric, there is more surface area for sweat to evaporate from the clothing, which allows for a faster release of water into the air from the body, resulting in a cooler feel on the skin. Even though we are not aware of it, our skin is constantly releasing water into the air. Thus, with more surface area in seersucker, the body is cooler because the moisture stays for a shorter time on the skin resulting in a cooler feel at the skin.
            You’re also right that lining in pants would be counter productive, since it would provide another layer of insulation, and would also slow movement of water vapor from the skin to the air outside the clothing. Adding to that is that many men’s pants lining materials have a higher polyester content, and thus tend to be less breathable than other fibers.

            Reply
  2. 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.

    Reply
  3. Ahmed Sajeel says:

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

    Reply
  4. 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

    Reply
  5. 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 🙁 ?

    Reply
  6. Gernot_Freiherr_von_Donnerbalken says:

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

    Reply
  7. 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!

    Reply
    • Matt D says:

      Actually I recall S/S being all the rage in the American Midwest during the 1970’s. Few things are more uncomfortable than a Chicago summer, and those that wore it ( more typically females ) raved about it!

      But I’ll agree, if you’ll notice, seldom will they show it on a football build model. For me it looked like I should be passing out cotton candy at a carnival. If television “adds ten pounds”, w/ S/S ( think 20? ) I’ll stick to Linen if it’s all the same.

      Reply
  8. Duncan says:

    Asa Brit I always think of seersucker as quintessentially American. I had not realised it was regarded as a poor man’s cloth in the early part of the last century. I had imagined it as the summer garb of partners in white shoe firms back in the day.
    An interesting article.

    Reply
  9. Todd Marvel says:

    Great article, I find the seersucker suit is for a man with style or flair, I love them, not I am the only one I know that wears them,perfect for they type of guys that read your Gazette. Now, I would like to see a article on the linen suit, I love them this time of year, but again, I am the only one I know who wears one. They can be a little unstructured, but I think a man of style can pull it off.

    Reply
  10. Terry says:

    I bought seersucker sport coat in Princeton several years ago and wore it summer after summer, until a dinner companion spilled her coffee on it (permanent stain) I’ve never seen the coats or suits sold here on the West Coast, but I do have several quality seersucker sport shirts from Brooks Brothers and Lands End. They are superb for long distance driving or day-long summer events because of their quick-drying and wrinkle free nature. I suggest paying a bit more to get real seersucker, as there are several low quality so-called seersuckers with only a minimum of crimping.
    Great article, Sven – makes me consider contacting Ben Silver for an order!

    Reply
  11. Joe says:

    I had Johnathan Behr in Los Angles make one for me in classic blue and white. He does them completely unlined but still with bar tacked shoulder pads, so the structure is there but it is light as a shirt and quite cool. It’s true the fabric is tightly woven but a combination of light color, very light weight, zero lining and open jacket allow you to stay protected from sun and yet a breeze can still reach you. I wore this with my straw fedora to an all-day even at the Huntington Library last year in 90°~100° weather. The rest of my group was in shorts and tee shirts, lathering on sunscreen and sweating while I was cool as a cucumber without sticky goop on my skin to clog pores. When I stopped at a restaurant for lunch recently, the older waitress remarked that she hadn’t seen a man wearing seersucker in ages. I got excellent service. 😉

    Reply
  12. Walter Wade says:

    I was told that the puckering of the seersucker fabric raised the fabric off the surface of the skin, even when damp from humidity, etc. This allowed for air to circulate and helped wick away the moisture so one felt cooler and drier than one would wearing a suit in a more traditional fabric.

    There is also a certain kind of wool suiting fabric that is almost the thinness of tissue paper. My great uncle wore it in summer; while everyone else wilted, he always looked crisp, composed and unwrinkled. When seen in certain lights, one could see light through the fabric. I noticed this when he wore a very deep charcoal grey suit, obviously unlined, one summer and the strong sunlight could be seen at a distance through his trouser leg. I wish I had asked him what the fabric was called and where to get it…

    Reply

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