During hot summer weather here in the U.S., the eternal quest for lightweight but professional attire can be especially difficult for men. Enter the classic fabric: seersucker. This light, thin and breathable material conjures images of southern gents and preppy college boys. However, the history of the fabric is much more colorful than its striped visage.
Suit available at Jos. A. Bank
The name seersucker stems from the Hindi sïrsakar or the Persian shïr o shakar, meaning milk and sugar. The puckered appearance of the fabric is generally thought to have inspired the food reference. It was a fabric developed in India and brought to the U.K. and, subsequently, the U.S. through the East India Trading Company. Rumor has it that Brooks Brothers was the first company to sell seersucker clothes to American consumers.
The reason for the Southern connotations is, of course, because of the hot and humid Southern climate. Men in the early 20th century would wear seersucker to help alleviate some of the summer heat. In the time before air conditioning, the texture of the fabric and its composition (usually cotton, linen or rayon) helped circulate air and kept them cool. Seersucker was also one of the first athletic fabrics. It could be seen on the tennis courts of the 1930s and 1940s.
Between 1996 and 2012, the U.S. Senate held an event called Seersucker Thursday, which was meant to show the colorful and fun side of politics. The mostly Republican group who attended, however, allowed the fabric to be associated with the preppy style.
Today, seersucker is both a traditional and an innovative material. Of course, the seersucker suit can be wonderfully proper, but when manipulated by the high fashion world, it can also be interesting and over-the-top.
Julien David Spring 2015 Menswear courtesy of Style.com
Thom Browne Spring 2015 Menswear courtesy of Style.com
The next time you want to stay cool in the heat, think of seersucker and all the great options that come with this historic fabric.