Welcome to The Clothing Press, where I provide a narrative for the clothes on your back. Each week, I focus on a different garment or textile and look into its history, how its made and where to find it.
By Sam Powers
Now that the weather is changing, our wardrobe is, as well. To withstand the upcoming heat, we need to be in breathable fabrics. Seersucker is a great choice — it keeps you cool in the heat and ready for whatever comes your way. Whether it be a day on the river or a Sunday brunch, seersucker has you covered.
Though now associated with southern American style, seersucker was first found in India under the different name shir o shakka, which is Persian for “milk and sugar,” a reference to the cloth’s smooth and coarse texture.
The British found the fabric back in the 1600s and the anglicized seersucker moniker appears in cargo listings by the end of the century in 1694. Seersucker quickly became popular for British colonists in warm weather colonies, in places like India and northern Africa, because of the cloth’s unique breathability.
Seersucker is made using slack-tension weaving, causing the fabric’s characteristic slight crinkle. This crinkle is just the thing that makes seersucker suited for warm weather by keeping the fabric off the skin and allowing more air to pass through the garment.
The New Orleans haberdasher Joseph Haspel took adavantage of seersucker’s unique qualities when he breathed new life into the cloth. In 1909, the Haspel Company started making seerusucker suits for southern businessmen.
The seersucker garment became a necessity for anybody needing to wear a suit during the long summer days, especially in the humid southern regions of the United States. It was a practical suit with a link to workwear since seersucker overalls were a common choice for railroad workers and gas station attendants.
The suit broke out of the American south around the 1930s when Princeton students saw the appeal of the style. At the time, the university still required students wear suit jackets to all campus events, even on hot summer days. The seersucker suit allowed students to still abide by the rules in comfort.
Entering into the 1940s, seersucker gained a reputation beyond being a cheap, practical option to beat the heat. The suit entered into the realm of high fashion, with persons of affluence such as the Duke of Windsor donning the blue and white stripes.
While most fabrics are woven using one set of “warp” yarns held under a uniform tension, weaving seersucker calls for the use of two sets of warp yarns: one held at standard tension and the other held at a higher tension.
These two types of warp yarns alternate with the standard tension warp creating a plain stripe and the high tension warp creating a crinkled stripe. This method of weaving is called slack-tension weaving. The natural wrinkle in seersucker also means you never have to iron it!
The classic seersucker is a blue and white stripe but can be found in other color combinations or even a solid color. However, the slack-tension weaving gives seersucker a natural stripe regardless of color.
If you ever need to wear a suit in the summer, seersucker is a great choice, but it doesn’t need to be regulated to only high-class affairs. The cloth was picked up by railroad workers for a reason — it’s great for working in.
If you have a job to get done in the summer, throw a seersucker shirt on and look good while doing it. Seersucker is a practical cloth that you don’t need to worry about. If it gets dirty, throw it in the wash and wear it when it comes out of the dryer.