Seersucker - The Milk and Sugar of Cool Fabric

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The name seersucker is said to originate from the Persian words shîr and shakar, which translates to “milk and sugar”. This most likely references the smooth and bumpy texture of the fabric, as well as evidencing the origin and popularity of the fabric in the Middle East - just like the popularity of the Madras fabric during the British Colonial era.

Seersucker was a popular choice of fabric in countries such as India because the climate was warm and muggy. However, it is also said that seersucker was used as early as the American Civil War, to make haversacks and more famously, the baggy trousers of the Confederate Zouaves, like that of the Louisiana Tigers. In addition to such clothing, the fabric was also used during the Victorian era for mattresses and pillowcases, becoming known as bed ticking. Seersucker proved to be a popular and more breathable and aerated fabric during the hot summers in the British colonies and in the southern states of America.

Seersucker adverts

So, what is Seersucker? Obviously its a name given to a style of fabric - well – Seersucker is not just a fabric, the way it is woven gives it, its special and important characteristics. It is actually, a thin, puckered all-cotton fabric. It is commonly striped or checkered, and as already stated - it is most associated with summer wear and garments worn in warmer climates. It is most often seen in white and blue stripes, it can be found in other colours like yellow, pink or green, alternating with white stripes. It’s often used for suits, shirts, shorts, dresses, and robes, with its key benefit being its lightweight nature and breathability. If you have ever been up close and personal with seersucker, you’ll notice that it is woven in such a way that some of the threads bunch together to give the fabric a wrinkled appearance. The advantage of this is that less fabric is in touch with your skin, allowing space for air to move over your skin, allowing for a cooler feeling when worn. This also has another advantage. Seersucker is very quick and easy to dry when wet. Plus its wrinkled nature means it doesn't need ironing.

Seersucker 12

While Seersucker had been popular during the nineteenth century, it really gained its iconic status for its role in menswear during the twentieth century. Around 1909, New Orleans clothier Joseph Haspel Sr. began to make suits from seersucker which gained regional popularity due to their comfort and suitability for the aforementioned warmer weather. It is said that Haspel had been manufacturing workwear clothing for factory workers and felt that businessmen shouldn’t have to suffer in hot offices, so he started a production run of seersucker suits at his New Orleans factory. Legend has it that while promoting his suits at a convention in Boca Raton, Florida, Haspel walked into the ocean up to his neck in his seersucker suit. He came out, hung the suit to dry that afternoon, and then proceeded to wear it to the convention dinner that evening, looking both sharp and smart.

Initially in the U.S. it was often poorer people who wore Seersucker, for the aforementioned work clothes manufactured by the likes of Haspel. However, it was when preppy undergraduate students began wearing it in the 1920s in an air of reverse snobbery, that it really began to take off. Brooks Brothers were also one of the first companies to utilise the fabric, and naturally, as the twentieth century progresses, so it's an association with Ivy Style becomes more entrenched. Film stars and musicians were seen to be choosing outfits using the fabric also. Notable wearers were Ivy Style icons like Anthony Perkins, Dustin Hoffman, Steve Mcqueen and James Coburn, and the Jazz musician responsible for the Birth Of The Cool - Miles Davis. In the UK as we move into the sixties, the early Modernists and then the Mods who took style inspiration from Album covers, and movies began to emulate their musical and celluloid heroes by seeking out items or getting items made in the fabric. One familiar 1960s star who looked great in Seersucker was Brian Jones, who most likely came across the fabric when The Rolling Stones first went to the U.S.

Seersucker Anthony Perkins

Today, many brands still incorporate Seersucker in their summer collections, and over the years Seersucker has remained a popular summer fabric and is just like Madras, a fabric for those who are style and comfort conscious – and therefore should have some in their wardrobe. I myself own a blazer, several shirts, and some shorts. Without a doubt, such clothing keeps you cool... in more ways than one.

Next week I will be looking at another Ivy Style and Mod classic. The Harrington Jacket.

Seersucker Brian jones


Read 935 times Last modified on Wednesday, 22 April 2020 16:52
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