Seeing Stripes: Haspel Turns 110 | L'OFFICIEL | JULY 2019
The invention of the seersucker suit in 1909 was a sartorial innovation stemming from the need to make smarter clothing for the suffocating New Orleans summers. Who wants to wear a heavy wool suit in July? At least that's what its inventor, Joseph Haspel was thinking, who, as a clothier and tailor at the turn of the 20th century, was already using seersucker fabrics to make sturdy work clothes for farmers, factory workers---the working class. Because seersucker fabric is puckered and light, it lifts away from the skin slightly, which Haspel realized. He designed the suit in pinstripes and tailoring them in a way that made this smooth and bumpy fabric into a good quality, breathable - and dapper - suit.
That was 110 years ago. Since then, the seersucker suit has become synonymous with everything from southern gentile fashion to Ivy League college students in the north. Anyone from any walk of life could wear seersucker and look stylish. By the 1920s, companies like Brooks Brothers was carrying a line of seersucker suits, and even politicians like Harry Truman and celebrities like Gregory Peck gave the seersucker suit the kind of free publicity that all of today's influencers compounded could never achieve. By the 1960s, if you didn’t own, or had at least heard of, your own seersucker suit, you were probably living far off the grid.
All that changed in the second half of the 20th century. Synthetic fabrics were all the rage and the polyester leisure suit rose to prominence. Seersucker historian and author, Bill Haltom wrote that the prevailing wisdom of the closing years of the 20th century was there was no need to dress up anymore for either work or play. Washington Post writer, David Ignatius referred to these decades as "a permanent sartorial winter." Seersucker largely fell out of fashion.
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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.