Memorial Day is nigh. The one thing every well-dressed gentleman must have as the temperature climbs is the seersucker suit. It’s fashion, it’s style, it’s retro, and it will make a huge summer comeback. A seersucker suit is one of the most iconic styles dating from the 1920s and is now fully in style.
As the noted sartorial authority G. Bruce Boyer has noted, seersucker is perfect for warm weather wear because it’s “pre-wrinkled, lightweight, and porous, soft of hand, acceptable of patterns and colors and it’s easily laundered.” Put quite simply, the seersucker suit “never wilts.”
What sets seersucker apart from other materials? It’s the ‘coolest’ material to wear in hot and humid weather. ‘Coolest,’ as in temperature, and ‘coolest’ as in hip, baby! There is nothing like it. It’s easily cleaned, never needs pressing, and no other suit will keep the hot and humid weather off your back.
Even the origin of the word “seersucker” is steeped in exotic legend. “Seersucker” comes from the ancient Persian “shir o shakkar,” which translates to “milk and sugar.” The combination of smooth stripes (smooth like milk) and rough stripes (rough as sugar) morphed into “seersucker” when it became popular during the British colonial period in India as the most desired material for British officers. It’s this combination of smooth and rough which gives seersucker its trademark “pucker.”
The cooling property of seersucker comes from the puckering which raises some of the fabric away from the body, allowing for less skin contact and more air circulation. For years, seersucker was seen primarily as material for uniforms and was widely used as such. However, it made a lasting impact in the summer wardrobe of southern gentlemen starting in the ’20s. What man of sufficient caliber doesn’t recall actor Gregory Peck in his seersucker suit in the film To Kill a Mockingbird?
The biggest attribute about wearing seersucker has to be its purposely rumpled look. This is because seersucker has a lack of inherent structure. According to Haspel, the original inventor of the seersucker suit, there are definite rules when contemplating seersucker. Generally speaking, a solid-colored shirt of either white or light blue is preferred. Neckwear should be limited to knit solids in navy blue or black or simple regimental stripes. The suit does the talking. Your neckwear need not do so.
The classic seersucker suit can be either single- or double-breasted, with the single-breasted three-button model (more difficult to find) but always sartorially correct. Although the three-piece vested seersucker suit is rare, it is still quite acceptable. A seersucker sport coat can be paired with either cream-shaded or light gray trousers. Trousers can be either plain-front or pleated, and personally, I always use a pair of braces (known to Americans as suspenders) to hold them in place.
Aside from fit, seersucker offers a wide variety of color combinations for every occasion. Traditionally, seersucker came in blue and white. With its increase in popularity, seersucker has seen a broader color spectrum, such as red and tan, gray and white, navy and black, tan and white, shades of blue, and basic black.
The key here is to wash your suit so the material loosens up, giving a relaxed look. A key tip, however, is to never wash it yourself. Always take your seersucker suit to the dry cleaners. The cotton fabric comes out much better after a dry cleaning, but avoid the harsh chemicals used in standard dry cleaning by always specifying the gentler, “custom-cleaning.”
Because of the lightness of the fabric, a proper inch-and-a-half to two-inch cuff will weigh the trouser leg down so it hangs properly. The Brits call this a “turn-up.”
Picking the proper shoes to accompany your seersucker suit is also key. White, red-soled bucks are always good, as are the more traditional “spectators” in either brown and white or black and white. A spectator being a two-toned shoe. Traditional cordovan penny loafers can be worn with the single-breasted seersucker suit but should be avoided in the more formal double-breasted seersucker suit, where lace-ups are required.
For the man who is unconcerned with fashion, a seersucker suit or sport coat carries with it a certain flair which recalls the nobility and charm of the southern gentleman. At the same time, wearing seersucker places a man in the company of such icons as Ronald Reagan, Frank Sinatra, James Coburn, and Gregory Peck. The look is dressy, sharp, cool, comfortable, and quite the latest. For those who have known seersucker, I tip my hat. For those who are new to it, I welcome you to the ‘coolness’ of seersucker.