What is a Seersucker? History and Seersucker Style Tips
Smart, relaxed, and cool in even the hottest weather – for a well-dressed man, that’s the aesthetic ideal. But combining high-end dressing with high-end temperatures can leave one a little hot under the collar, and pulling off a relaxed-smart look when you’re melting can seem pretty impossible. Luckily for all of us, there are breathable fabric options out there that can help you stay cool when it’s hot outside, including one of our favorites, seersucker. In this article, the Oliver Wicks team will help clear up some misconceptions, present the facts, and give you the scoop on this summer fabric of choice.
If you've ever wondered how so many fabrics seem to be cotton but somehow aren’t, we promise you’re not the only one. In the world of textiles, while the type of plant used in making a fabric matters, how the fibers are woven and the manufacturing process are important, too. That’s how your sturdy work jeans, favorite dress shirt, and kitchen tea towel can all be made from the same robust plant.
It’s also how you get seersucker, which is a lightweight cotton fabric that’s great for hot days. Seersucker retains the comfort, breathability, and durability cotton is known for but is a very light weave fabric with a characteristic “puckered,” or crinkled, look. This puckering is one reason seersucker is so light on the skin – it traps little insulative pockets of air near the body to keep you cooler.
The stripe has become an iconic characteristic of seersucker material. While you’ll sometimes find silk-seersucker, most of the time, the stripes are made from 100% cotton threads. Though the most typical color scheme is white and blue, seersucker stripes can be any color – pastels like pink, yellow, and green are most common after the iconic blue, but you can just as easily find a crisp navy. One stripe is usually crisp and clean, while the other looks a little rougher. This unique texture combination makes seersucker hard to crease, which is another reason why many turn to seersucker in the summer. While linen is also a fantastic hot-weather fabric, it's notorious for its propensity towards creasing, but this is just another unique character of linen’s charm.
The seersucker stripes have also led to some confusion about what seersucker actually is. Because of its strong association with seersucker fabric, the striped pattern is often confused with the material itself. The stripes are sometimes called a “seersucker pattern” even when not on seersucker material. The word seersucker itself, however, refers specifically to the fabric.
Seersucker was first invented in India, though the name comes from a Persian loanword: shīroshakar. This translates as “milk and sugar,” referencing the smooth and rough pinstripe pattern and the oat-and-cream stripe pattern that was traditional for the material at the time. It quickly spread through the much hotter British colonies as a cooler, more sensible alternative to clothing from home.
We mentioned above that some seersucker is made with cotton and silk blends. This was the traditional way to make it. While the cotton would shrink on the first wash, the silk would not. This gave it the characteristic “pucker” that defined seersucker. As most modern seersuckers are 100% cotton, they achieve the same effect by alternating tight and loose warp threads. It’s a weaving technique known as slack tension weaving, and it takes some skill.
Once seersucker reached America, it became the default fabric for summer laborers. We even saw heavy-duty seersucker used in hats and overalls. In 1909, however, seersucker crossed over from workwear into the sartorial space, becoming the go-to summer suit fabric thanks to some reimagining from New Orleans-based clothier Joseph Haspel Sr.
Heavily associated with New Orleans, the jazz movement, and the American South, seersucker even found a place in music history, with Miles Davis wearing a seersucker suit on his iconic 1958 album cover At Newport.
Because of its associations with the South, as well as its time as the fabric of choice for the Ivy League set, many people still see seersucker as old school and think of it as a difficult fabric to pull off. You want to be cool and elegant, but you don’t want to look like an extra from Mary Poppins, and the cultural image of seersucker is a little stuck on snappy bow ties, pastel shirts, and ice-cream stripes. Luckily, that’s all in the past. It turns out you can take the Colonel Sanders vibe out of seersucker.
Slow to crease and easier to wear than linen, seersucker has had a recent renaissance with contemporary designers, who have given it new life with modern silhouettes and styling. We’ve seen everything from ultra-sleek slim-cut suits to relaxed bomber jackets dripping in style. For the well-dressed modern man, the world is truly your seersucker oyster.
So, how does today’s stylish dresser wear seersucker? Our first and biggest tip is not to sweat this one too much (pun fully intended). Modern seersucker suiting has all the same options as our other custom suits and pants, so you can transition your preferred styles in cooler months to a lighter, more breathable summer look without much effort. Usually an Oxford shirt and blazer guy? You can swap in seersucker with no need to overthink. That being said, we do have some tips to make sure you nail the look.
Oliver Wicks fans already know how important the fit of a garment is to your look, and seersucker is no different. Because of its iconic puckering, the fabric is bulkier than you’d expect, considering it’s so light and breezy. This means you need impeccable tailoring to really get the most out of your seersucker suiting. And remember, it’s the fit that suits you that matters most, so pay attention to what sits best on your frame! You don’t always have to go for a slim fit, but it’s a good idea to keep the tailoring impeccable and the fit close.
Remember, seersucker is already a textured fabric. Plus, you’re wearing it in warm weather, so you probably don’t want to pile on the accessories. And if you go too matchy-matchy, you’re going to venture back into Mary Poppins territory.
That’s why, when wearing seersucker, we suggest opting for silk ties or pocket squares or mixing in some fabrics like linen and chambray to break up the effect. This is also a great opportunity to find the perfect set of sunglasses, though you should make sure you’re not overpowering an already detailed look with too much bling. Aim for a cool and understated summer-appropriate style.
Choose colors, shirts, shirt collars, and other aspects of your look to lean more modern. Opting for the classic blue and white stripe or adding a vintage collar style like a club or spear collar might catapult your vibe back into the 50s jazz scene. Crisp, clean white shirts with modern collars, sophisticated dark blazers, and mixing in additional fabrics all ensure a seersucker look that’s modern and sleek. Well-tailored ultra-modern European-style suits, such as those that Oliver Wicks specializes in, are a great, snappy combo with the fabric.
Seersucker is a robust fabric, so it can make anything you’d wear, head to toe. Seersucker hats and shorts are as common as blazers, pants, suits, and shirts. Of course, we don’t recommend decking yourself out head-to-toe in one fabric, but in terms of options, you’re spoiled for choice!
From the skilled craftsmen of Italy’s Subalpino, Oliver Wicks offers this classic look of summertime menswear, Seersucker is perfectly suited to a riverside regatta, a picnic in the park, and everything in between. This suit features great breathability and a lightweight material, perfect for a breezy walk on a hot summer day.
These are stylish and comfortable pants man can easily pair up with their favorite shirt.
This is a versatile seasonal blazer that brings the comfort of the lighter cotton fabric, and the extra style options which open up with a cotton blazer.
Bring in your seersucker where you choose, but if you’re hoping to stay cool this summer, a seersucker blazer, pants, or even a full suit are all good options. Seersucker is an excellent fabric to travel in, keeping you cool and avoiding the creases from, for example, sitting on long-haul flights. It also dries in record time, making it a great choice for your travel bag.
If you’re looking for a comfortable, cool fabric with an iconic style of its own, then seersucker could be for you. It’s been worn by presidents, politicians, Hollywood stars, and gentlemen of leisure since its inception. With fresh modern takes on this old classic, you can keep your style on point and yourself cool and confident no matter what the weather throws at you.
Keen to try seersucker for yourself? Oliver Wicks is proud to offer seersucker in our range of custom suits, so feel free to explore the site and get some inspiration for your new summer favorite.
And if you want some help or have any questions, our knowledgeable staff is only an email away at firstname.lastname@example.org.