Seersucker is a dimpled cotton fabric famous for its ability to keep the wearer cool in hot weather. Originating from the Middle East, it’s made using ‘slack tension’ weaving during which alternate threads are placed under tension. When removed from the loom, these threads shrink back, giving the cloth its distinctive wrinkled texture.
In the days before air conditioning, the British Raj loved seersucker. Gentlemen from America’s deep south did too; it kept railroad workers cool as they stoked the boilers of their steam trains, and during the post-war period, preppy students adopted the look.
Seersucker is a classic spring/summer fabric and there’s never been a better time to wear it than right now.
Why wear seersucker?
When the mercury climbs, seersucker is a sensible choice. Not only does it retain its shape better than linen, it’s also pretty good at stopping you from overheating. Seersucker’s unique texture helps to mimimize the contact between cloth and skin and this aids air circulation, helping heat and moisture to escape. Result: you stay cool.
Called “sheer shakar” in its native Persia – modern day Iran – this fabric has been around for millenia. When the Persians exported their cloth to the markets of the British Empire’s biggest colony – India – the red faced rulers bought it to make suits that were less sweaty than their woolens from home.
These days, what happens in the US tends to be mirrored in the UK, but back then, the boot was on the other foot. Before long, seersucker made it across the Atlantic and there, it was transformed into something far more stylish than the stuffy gents of the Raj could stitch together.
An American classic
Seersucker was supremely practical and cheap to manufacture and so appealed to rich and poor alike. Southern gentlemen turned the fabric into exquisitely tailored striped suits whose clean lines and pastel shades adorned the verandas of fairytale mansions right across the southern states.
Railroad workers were happy to wear brown – hickory stripe – seersucker overalls also known as ‘railroad ticking’ because not only was it as hard wearing as denim but it was more comfortable to wear in the heat of the engine cab.
During the 1950s, students at some of the USA’s top colleges began to wear seersucker as an ironic gesture. But seersucker is such a beautiful cloth that it transcends social divisions – it’s a fabric for every era.
How to wear seersucker today
It’s traditional to see congressional staffers wearing seersucker on Thursdays throughout the summer months, but outside of government and National Seersucker Day in late June or July, it’s often thought of as too flamboyant for general office wear.
Seersucker suit? Wearing seersucker from head to toe makes a statement that can be hard to pull off. But tailored seersucker separates look fabulous at all manner of summer social events – think weddings, summer parties, yachting regattas and graduations. In fact any time you want to add a celebratory feel to your ensemble is a good time to reach for a seersucker jacket and chinos.
How to wear a seersucker jacket
Seersucker jackets are nearly always striped and offer several attractive pastel shades from which to choose. These include understated navy, classy coral and vibrant summer yellow. A white shirt looks great underneath – a linen-cotton mix is a good choice because not only does it keep its shape better than pure linen, it also helps keep you feeling fresh.
Select a pair of summer-weight chinos to complement your jacket – pants in gray, stone and blue are perfect for the task. Alternatively, create a contemporary vibe by switching out your collared shirt for a plain tee and indigo jeans.
A pocket square, classic shades and a decent wristwatch are all the accessories you need to look fantastic in a seersucker jacket. Just add the right footwear – boat shoes will do the trick.
How to wear a seersucker shirt
A great option for more casual occasions, a seersucker shirt is a must for BBQs with friends, dining alfresco, beach holidays and cruises. In fact, the warmer the weather, the better a seersucker shirt looks. Why? Because the sweaty, red-faced guys hovering around the BBQ won’t be you!
The trick to wearing seersucker is to wear one piece at a time. If you’re going for a shirt in this fabric, you’ll be looking at chinos or chino shorts – you don’t want linen pants because it’s a little too much texture for one man to carry at once. Sunny outside? Don’t forget your Panama hat.
How to wear seersucker shorts
Think you’re too old to look good in shorts? You’re wrong. In fact shorts can look great on more mature men, provided you wear them well. That is to say, seersucker shorts with a tasteful pair of leather sandals or boat shoes look good on men of all ages.
Shorts are always a casual look, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be classy. A white polo shirt and a cashmere-mix sweater to drape around your shoulders is the way to go.
Remember: When the sun shines, suckers swelter. Snappy dressers glide through the heat in stylish seersucker.