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The Seersucker Suit

Jack Bettridge
From the Print Edition:
Camilo Villegas, July/August 2006

I must confess I once was reticent about the seersucker suit. Oh, I always loved the look and how cool it kept me, even on the hottest summer day. But it also seemed affected, as if the wearer were imitating a loquacious Southern lawyer or a foreign correspondent in the tropics. There was also the issue of when to don it. Do you wait until after the Fourth of July? Or is it Memorial Day? And what about its tendency to wrinkle? Need you obsessively keep it pressed?

Then one day while I was self-consciously cooling it in a seersucker suit, a woman told me she thought I looked hot. 'Nuff said. I changed my position on the fabric forever. I started wearing my seersucker even when the thermometer was barely bucking room temperature and let it become insouciantly rumpled. Soon, I garnered enough compliments to know it was the suit and not I that was charming the distaff side.

It charmed me, too, so I found out more. The fabric originated in India, where dealing with hot weather is a real issue. The name itself derives from the Persian shir-o-shakar (milk and sugar), a phrase that describes the smooth and crimped ripples that arise from the production technique of alternating layers of taut and loose yarns. The puckered effect is what makes it breathe so well. It also explains the fabric's visual interest: it has a depth to it and gives the illusion at a distance of being a solid color.

Brooks Brothers first imported it to the United States in 1830. It proved a hit in New York's sweltering summers and has always been a part of the store's summer wardrobe. But it was in the South where men really took to the look. Haspel of New Orleans made a cottage industry of summer suits made of seersucker and poplin. Seersuckers also seemed to be a hit with politicians, and Trent Lott, of Mississippi, holds a Seersucker Thursday each year on the Senate floor.

The classic, of course, comes in blue-gray and white stripes, but a range of pastels do seersucker justice, as the Southwick suits pictured prove. Remember: seersucker allows you to be a dandy, so consider pairing it with pocket squares, white bucks or that Panama hat you never wear. It's also great to pack for summer weekends, because you can wear it together or as separates: the jacket over a pair of solid-colored slacks or the pants with a navy blue blazer or no jacket at all.

Seen in a number of movies recently and featured in the lines of such fashion designers as Helmut Lang, seersucker is back. And my only lament is I won't be the only one getting the attention of the ladies any longer.

Visit www.brooksbrothers.com, www.haspel.com and www.southwickclothing.com.

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