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Brand and shopping advice

Why it’s time to reconsider seersucker

Why it’s time to reconsider seersucker

Think about seersucker fabric, and chances are you’re picturing a well-dressed gentleman in a pastel striped suit – at best this man is a dapper gentleman living in Louisiana drinking a mint julep, at worst, it’s Colonel Sanders. A summer perennial, seersucker has felt pigeon-holed recently – there's a this commonly held idea that it's always a blue and white pastel suit. Modern seersucker is available in a range of colours and styles, but to understand why seersucker is (literally) cool now, you need to know where it came from.

The word seersucker comes from the Persian sobriquet, shir o shekar meaning ‘milk and sugar’, which is a reference to the combination of smooth and rough pinstripes. It is believed that seersucker fabric originated in India and was popular among gentlemen in the British colonies, who were impressed that they could still look smart without overheating. 

The fabric eventually made its way over to the USA where it became an instant hit with Southern gentlemen. In 1909 it became hugely popular after Haspel – American seersucker makers – marketed it as the ultimate summer suit fabric. An idea that only grew when everyone from Miles Davis to Gregory Peck (as Atticus Finch, the morally strong Southern lawyer in the screen version of To Kill a Mockingbird) were seen in seersucker suits. The images of these popular, fashionable men, wearing seersucker suits played into the idea that this was something only for the well-dressed men who wore suits in the summer. This idea has relaxed in the past few decades, but seersucker is still viewed through this lens.

“The best way to think about it is like linen,” says stylist Luke McDonald. “Linen is a very traditional summer fabric but guys are wearing it in new and interesting ways now, and the same can – and should – happen with seersucker. It’s not just for jazz musicians in New Orleans.”

One of the key elements of seersucker is the puckered effect, which originally came about because it was a cotton silk blend and when the silk was washed it shrank, leading to this slightly creased texture. Today, those crinkles are made by weaving cotton with a tight and loose weave. This is what creates the instantly recognisable pinstripes that, according to Luke, should hold the key to the modern appeal, “The pinstripe-like texture means that you can actually go bolder with colour than you might imagine because you’ve got the light and dark effect of the stripes in the fabric that creates a softer colour.” So play around with colour, blues are great but consider red, purple, green or even orange.

Seersucker lends itself to summer not just because of the lightweight, breathable nature of the fabric, but also because it travels well. “It’s technically already creased, so you don’t have to worry about it creasing in the same way as linen, and because of the texture, it actually holds its shape better than traditional cotton,” Luke says.

So it can be colourful and travels well, but how do you wear seersucker in 2019? “We’re not saying you can’t wear a suit but don’t limit yourself to only a suit.” Try a seersucker jacket over a statement tee, or seersucker trousers with trainers and a plain camp collar shirt, or even a seersucker blazer but with smart sweatpants. After all, it’s just another type of cotton so the possibilities are endless. Whether you pair yours with a mint julep and Miles Davis on vinyl is entirely up to you.

Words: Nadia Balame-Price
Photography: Jon Cardwell
Styling: Alexander McCalla
Styling assistant: Toby Standing