Happy Birthday to the Perfect Summer Suit | The Manual | JULY 2019
Celebrating 110 Years of Seersucker: Happy Birthday to the Perfect Summer Suit
On Tom Waits’ classic Nighthawks at The Diner, during the closing track Waits agrees that he needs to step up his style, saying, “Maybe a serious seersucker Saturday evening cranberry accouterment ensemble would be nice.”
Wouldn’t it, though? The line kept snaking through my head when I was invited by Haspel, the champion of seersucker, to head South and experience the city of New Orleans — and the birthplace of the classic seersucker suit — to celebrate National Seersucker Day. Haspel was founded in New Orleans in 1909, so this was a not-to-be-passed-up opportunity to celebrate the brand’s 110th anniversary, while taking a deep drink of the culture that formed this sartorial icon.
According to fashion historian Bill Haltom, author of Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker, the history of seersucker fabric gets muddled in time. The name itself is said to come from the Persian; a derivation of “sheer” and “shakkar,” meaning milk and sugar, describing the way the smooth and bumpy textures of the fabric come out in the weave. It was brought to the United States from the British Colonial East Indies in the 1800s. That puckered texture causes the already lightweight fabric to lift away from the skin, keeping the wearer cool. Joseph Haspel, a clothier and tailor, adopted the fabric to make work clothes for factory workers and farmers — even prisoners — who work in New Orleans’ near-tropical climate. He was inspired to tailor the fabric into a suit for professionals to battle Louisiana’s raging heat, and it became a sensation throughout the South.
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It's getting hot out there! The Haspel Brothers company, founded in New Orleans in 1909, designed this seersucker suit to help keep their customers cool in the 1950s. The company's founder, Joseph Haspel, originated the idea of making men's suits out of lightweight wash-and-wear cotton seersucker material, which ultimately led to seersucker becoming the quintessential southern man's warm-weather suit. A 1950s Haspel suit is one of the artifacts included in the exhibition "We Love You, New Orleans" in the Cabildo.
Men's seersucker suit, Haspel Brothers, Inc., ca. 1950. Gift of the Crawford Family, 1966.060.145a–b.
Every year in June, on a warm and sticky Thursday, senators arrive at work looking like they’ve come straight from the Kentucky Derby. Gone are the standard dark suits of the winter months. Instead, they wear seersucker.
Walking the halls of the Capitol, they project a sense of gentility and ease. Why yes, they seem to say, this fabric is 100 percent cotton. Why yes, it is extremely cool. Why yes, these tiny stripes, blue and white and vanishingly thin, kind of make your head spin. Now let’s all squeeze together for a bipartisan photo op.
Two native New Orleans brands have joined forces on the release of a capsule accessory collection paying tribute to all things Louisiana.
American tailored clothing brand Haspel has teamed up with accessories company NOLA Couture on a line of colorful silk ties, bow ties, and pocket squares featuring some of Louisiana’s favorite things like sugarcane, pelicans, catfish, the “Cajun Holy Trinity”, magnolias, iris, and strawberry prints. Pocket squares retail for $35, bow ties for $55, and neckties for $65.