By Beth Castle
New Orleanian clothier Joseph Haspel brought seersucker into the Southern fold. Although the airy, durable fabric was commonly used to make manufacturing uniforms (a practice that originated in colonial India), in 1909, Haspel stitched a plan to create a three-piece suit from the cloth. On a beach in Boca Raton, Florida, Haspel waded, fully clothed, into the Atlantic, telling onlookers his “wash suit” would dry in fifteen minutes and be ready to wear to a trade show dinner that evening. They scoffed, but his claim proved true, and seersucker went on to become the South’s warm-weather wonder.
The fabric’s name describes its smooth-yet-bumpy texture. The word “seersucker” combines Persian words “sheer” and “shakkar,” translating to “milk and sugar.”
Thanks to former Mississippi Senator Trent Lott, who reportedly wore seersucker because he thought the Capitol needed “a little Southern charm,” Congress dresses for Seersucker Thursday every June.
Haspel’s son Joseph Haspel Jr. fitted Gregory Peck for the seersucker suit he wore in To Kill a Mockingbird. It was a natural choice for Atticus Finch’s attire: Before the advent of air conditioning, the lightweight cotton offered relief to Southern lawyers in balmy courtrooms.
The final round of the St. Jude Classic Golf Tournament, which takes place every June in Memphis, is known as Seersucker Sunday. Fans “show their stripes,” and
the champion is presented with a seersucker jacket.
Custom dictates seersucker be worn between Memorial and Labor days, but Easter Sunday is also acceptable. White bucks are the traditional shoe of choice. (Socks are optional.)
New Orleans menswear institution Rubenstein’s, at St. Charles Avenue and Canal Street since 1924, was the first American retail store to sell Haspel’s seersucker. The shop still receives a new shipment of the suits every February.
Each August in Franklin, Tennessee, O’More College of Design hosts Seriously Seersucker, a large-scale Southern food and drink gathering (think shrimp and
grits, barbecue, and lots of bourbon). There’s only one rule at this lawn party: All guests must wear seersucker.
Charleston’s RiverDogs baseball team wears seersucker for every Sunday home game.