Seersucker Suit Jacket

The lapel of a seersucker suit.

The best design offers innovative solutions to the relentless stream of everyday challenges, uniquely reflecting and interacting with their origins. Seersucker, the brightly colored cotton fabric associated with Southern Gentlemen, J. Crew catalogs and Easter egg hunts, is certainly no different. Both an iconic achievement in fashion design and functionality, seersucker’s ceaseless timelessness stands as one of America’s finest fabric achievements.

While different origin histories cite Muslim traders and former British colonies, for contemporary purposes, our attention is drawn to balmy New Orleans at the turn of the humid century, 1907 to be exact, and its master tailor Joseph Haspel. Realizing the lightweight fabric would serve the masses of workers sweating their way through work days mercilessly devoid of air conditioning, coupled with his marketing concept of ‘wash and wear,’ a new American classic was born. He is said to have christened his creation of alternating stripes of blue and white, the rough and the smooth, “seersucker” from the Persian words for “milk” and “sugar.”

Seersucker’s distinctive crinkly shape is achieved through a slack tension weave, resulting in a versatile fabric of bunched threads that not only looks great in a dashingly disheveled, devil-may-care way, but is lifted from the body, thusly allowing for said cooling air flow. Again harnessing its slack tension weave crinkle powers, no doting care is necessary; any ole washing maintains the look.

Gregory Peck Wearing a Seersucker in 'To Kill a Mockingbird' 1962

Gregory Peck Wearing a Seersucker in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ 1962

And about that look, mirroring the trajectory of countless trends in modern America, what started as a working class thing, soon began appearing on college campuses. Then, in the 1920s, the suits were adopted by well to do Northerners vacationing in the South. Its utilitarian functionality continued to catch on, particularly in the nearby regions of the sweltering South, where it continues to carry its heaviest associations with the so-called Southern Gentleman.

Even the U.S. Senate, historically known for its poor ventilation, on the second or third Thursday in June, holds a Seersucker Thursday, founded by Trent Lott, where caricatured images of those gentlemen brighten up the usually dourly dressed denizens of the capital.

Before the fashion forward Senate, the U.S. government recognized the potential of seersucker, decking out World War II nurses with matchy-matchy numbers, colored accordingly: brown and white for Army and gray and white for Navy nurses. Designed to take advantage of the fabric’s ruggedness in the field, its radical departure from stoic military tradition meant its longevity was for naught.

Seersucker Navy Working Uniform, Circa 1944

Two women wearing seersucker Navy working uniforms, circa 1944.

Seersucker not only reigns supreme in suits, shorts, skirts – even the curtains of homes utilize this fabric. That said, the weaving process of alternating tight and slack weaves is labor intensive and expensive and companies stand to make little profit, resulting in fewer companies producing true seersucker. Harsh chemical treatments replicate the crinkle affect, but there ain’t no crinkle like a real seersucker crinkle, so make sure you get the real deal.

And in the real deal department, our old friend Joseph Haspel remains in the business of tailoring fine men’s suits via his family’s commitment to his vision. After flying the seersucker flag for years, even outfitting Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch in the film adaptation of To Kill A Mockingbird, and winning over recent presidents with their fine suits, it’s inspiring to see a brand’s dedication persevere.

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  1. Tanner Almon
    Posted January 8, 2010 at 6:24 AM | Permalink

    Great article. I have got to get me a few of these suits before this muggy New York summer gets here. I want that light weight crinkle!

  2. DLJ
    Posted January 9, 2010 at 8:52 AM | Permalink

    Haspel really has have a great website….not. Ok, I understand seersucker is cool and all. But by the look of their website, Haspel seems to be stuck in the past.


  3. Cormac Flynn
    Posted June 11, 2011 at 2:06 PM | Permalink

    Yes; in many ways Haspel is stuck in the past. Isn't it just wonderful!

  4. Posted February 4, 2013 at 2:56 AM | Permalink

    is there anyone out there today, Feb. 2013, who has access to a seersucker sight where we can buy fabric or order readymade blouses? am a 67 year old grandma and seersucker is the only material that doesn't adversely affect my skin! thank you for anyone who can help and email me with info.

  5. Posted June 27, 2013 at 3:32 AM | Permalink

    Great pictures and a blast from the past. The new era of Haspel is just beginning…….. The comments were spot-on. Yes we have a history, a great one, but we're taking it to the modern day once again. Stay tuned please and thanks for your loyalty to our super cool brand. Haspel Days are HERE again!

  6. Posted April 13, 2015 at 11:18 AM | Permalink

    Hello there! This post could not be written any
    better! Looking through this article reminds me of my previous roommate!

    He always kept preaching about this. I most certainly will send this
    post to him. Pretty sure he’s going to have a good read.
    Thanks for sharing!

  7. Posted May 18, 2015 at 4:10 AM | Permalink

    Good article. I certainly love this site. Keep itt up!

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