Seersucker's Curious Class Struggle
August 21, 2017 3:10 PM   Subscribe

Seersucker's Curious Class Struggle [via mefi projects] The Whelk provides a thorough, and thoroughly engaging, history of America's most underrated fabric.
posted by tel3path (46 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
 
I am torn. The article provides ample reason for its exhortation to the reader to welcome back seersucker but also provides illustration of Trent Lott's Seersucker Thursday, which is as unenticing an image for emulation as one could think of.
posted by gusottertrout at 3:31 PM on August 21 [8 favorites]


There are some aging Southern literature professors around here who rock it with full authenticity
posted by thelonius at 3:35 PM on August 21 [2 favorites]


But seersucker is available in all-dark colouring... does it really look that bad? A dark navy seersucker suit would be a little warmer in the sun, but certainly better than wool.

At any rate, The Gap has some seersucker shirts on sale... hmm....
posted by GuyZero at 3:44 PM on August 21 [1 favorite]


My late uncle used to rock a blue seersucker suit in summer, along with saddle oxfords. I wish I'd seen him perform in court with that outfit.
posted by Bee'sWing at 3:47 PM on August 21 [4 favorites]


King Madras

I never miss an opportunity to pick up seersucker at the thrift store.
posted by acrasis at 3:48 PM on August 21 [1 favorite]


It occurs to me that I never really knew what "seersucker" was until just right now. The train engineer's cap is what did it for me. I always pictured something different, maybe more like... sharkskin suits? Something smooth and shiny. I don't know why.
posted by RustyBrooks at 4:14 PM on August 21 [2 favorites]


sharkskin suits?

Now we're talking!
posted by Splunge at 4:18 PM on August 21 [4 favorites]


I made a seersucker dress for summer dances years ago, and it has held up to all the washing and still hangs well. Also, seersucker is about the optimal material to polk in August in.
posted by clew at 4:22 PM on August 21 [6 favorites]


I grew up in the Bay Area which means this is the only acceptable seersucker suit.
posted by chavenet at 4:28 PM on August 21


Seersucker suits suffer from the same problem as poplin suits, OCBDs, cravats, bow ties, and patch pocket blazers. Too formal for everyday wear, too casual for current business dress. They represent a transitional phase in informal dress that is now occupied by business casual. That's why they look like costume, at this point, they are.
posted by leotrotsky at 4:38 PM on August 21 [15 favorites]


I know I've been told that "milk and sugar" was originally a reference to bleached and natural cotton threads used for beige-and-white stripes, back when sugar was brown for most people. Can't find a reference online, but possibly my oil-exploring grandfather told me; I know he wore seersucker and had brown cone sugar and traded just-so stories whereever he went.
posted by clew at 4:41 PM on August 21 [4 favorites]


The Wikipedia article seems to imply that seersucker and ticking canvas were interchangeable, which seems so unlikely.

Perhaps confusion came in with a reference to overalls? "Overalls" meaning a shirt and pants attached at the waist seem more useful in seersucker than "overalls" that are heavy pants with loops for heavy tools hung from the shoulders; which, as Wilde recommends, shield one's loveliness, and one's freedom and motion do not impede.
posted by clew at 4:53 PM on August 21


I'm wearing a pair of seersucker pants right now. My summer suit is a three-piece seersucker, and I wear the various elements as separates or occasionally together. Couldn't do without it.
posted by slkinsey at 5:00 PM on August 21 [7 favorites]


My jacket's gonna be cut slim and checked
Maybe a touch of seersucker with an open neck
I ride a GS scooter with my hair cut neat
I wear my wartime coat in the wind and sleet
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 5:10 PM on August 21 [5 favorites]


Seersucker suits suffer from the same problem as poplin suits, OCBDs, cravats, bow ties, and patch pocket blazers.

I think you've got something of a point, though I've got enough tolerance for costume that I wore a linen suit to work today, but how does an OCBD look like costume in a business casual office? It's not flashy, it's just a shirt. I doubt most people even notice the collar or the material.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:50 PM on August 21 [4 favorites]


My parents bought me a seersucker suit in 1975, when I was six years old.

I haven't worn one since.
posted by mikeand1 at 6:30 PM on August 21 [1 favorite]


Seersucker suits suffer from the same problem as poplin suits, OCBDs, cravats, bow ties, and patch pocket blazers. Too formal for everyday wear, too casual for current business dress. They represent a transitional phase in informal dress that is now occupied by business casual. That's why they look like costume, at this point, they are.

I work in an environment so casual that someone tucking in his shirt stands out for the formality. So this makes sense to me. These days there are slobby everyday clothes like what I am wearing now, "business casual" like what the dude at my car insurance place wears, and business suits which I mostly only see in the airport and downtown near the courthouse. That whole entire spectrum of somewhat less formal clothes just aren't worn much anymore, except as costume.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:45 PM on August 21 [3 favorites]


I've never much played with it, despite living in the inferno for most of my life. It looks to be about $7 a yard, so I may pick up a few and try a 50's style housedress and see what I think.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 6:50 PM on August 21 [5 favorites]


Now I want seersucker suit. I haven't worn that fabric since I was a kid.
posted by bunderful at 7:23 PM on August 21


I am from the US south, my wife is from where a place she claims to be ... not that (but kinda is, c'mon NoVa, give it up). Anyway, when we lived in DC, I told her for months I was going to get a seersucker, that it looks good and feels good in hot and humid. She was never convinced.

Until I quit trying to convince her and just bought a white on white seersucker blazer and wore it to a friend's birthday. It is the PERFECT blend of casual and dressy to make folks think "wow he got fancy" without thinking "ooh am I underdressed?" She was totally sold. And it is comfy as anything.

But for whatever reason, while I got that jacket for a song, finding white on white seersucker pants for under at least a cool hundred bucks? No freakin' dice.

It looks to be about $7 a yard,

Maybe that's my answer, I have gotten into sewing recently, but only enough to make small bags and such or repairing weak seams on already made clothing... and I've been thinking men's pants might be a good entry point into making actual clothing myself.
posted by solotoro at 8:21 PM on August 21 [2 favorites]


I really wish seersucker was called "milk and sugar" or literally anything other than "seersucker." The name just turns me off so hard.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:07 PM on August 21 [1 favorite]


There were a few weeks where I was intent on wearing a seersucker suit to my bar mitzvah . Ended up going for a dumb oversized bowtie instead. Still not sure I made the right choice.
posted by cichlid ceilidh at 9:25 PM on August 21 [1 favorite]


I have tried on seersucker clothes before, but the fabric didn't feel all that breezy/cooler than any other lightweight fabric to me. In fact, the polyester content of the fabric combined with the acetate or polyester lining made it feel a lot less cool than linen, so I have always opted for unlined linen. I'd be willing to rethink it if there were 100% cotton, unlined seersucker.
posted by Stewriffic at 4:32 AM on August 22


"Seersucker." The name just turns me off so hard.

It sounds like a bird that became extinct because its protective coloration was not well-suited to the industrial era.
posted by box at 4:38 AM on August 22 [4 favorites]


I mentioned wanting a seersucker suit to a coworker a while back (technically I have one I got cheap from Joseph A Bank, but it's lined which is dumb so it stays in the closet) and she straight up did not believe me that that was the name of a real thing. I'd point it out whenever we saw in the wild, which in DC is occasionally. I wound up with a linen suit out of fear that the seersucker would be too costumey, and I love it, but the seersucker still calls to me.

I'd be willing to rethink it if there were 100% cotton, unlined seersucker.

This is totally a thing, or at least quarter lined, but it's expensive. I actually had no idea polyester seersucker blend was a thing. Haspel makes a good seersucker suit, I hear, quarter lined, but it looks like it runs $600ish for a suit (my clearance JAB number I never wear was $95). Alas my wonky shrug shoulders also make me deeply wary of online ordering of suits.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:02 AM on August 22


Wore my favorite seersucker shirt yesterday; I have several, but the blue & white is the best.

*So* comfortable in the summer!
posted by wenestvedt at 5:48 AM on August 22 [1 favorite]


As a heavy sweat producing person doomed/blessed to live in a Florida Beach town where seersucker would fashionably fit perfectly with any given day of the year, this is interesting.

But there in lies the problem, it's only interesting in theory and not really helpful in prqctice due to the fact that my experience, with linen for example, has been that I'm still drenched with sweat on any given exposure to non-climate controlled air.

I guess I'm just an old man shouting at clouds at this point but it's just incomprehensible how folks in the past dealt with heat and humidity with any degree of success, short of just accepting as normal their neighbor or associates being drenched in sweat and smelling interesting by 11am. It's not like I wasn't born and raised to this climate and no stranger to hard labor in the same. Perhaps losing a bit of weight would help, I admit, but as far as other solutions, I've tried them all to no avail. What I wouldn't do for some Bene Gesserit or Aes Sedai (I forget, didn't they both have the ability/skill to ignore heat/cold influences?) powers.
posted by RolandOfEld at 5:52 AM on August 22 [2 favorites]


I really wish seersucker was called "milk and sugar" or literally anything other than "seersucker." The name just turns me off so hard.

Imagine how the seers feel
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 7:38 AM on August 22 [4 favorites]


but how does an OCBD look like costume in a business casual office? It's not flashy, it's just a shirt. I doubt most people even notice the collar or the material.

You're right, of course. But only on its own. Pair it with a sack suit, a bow, and braces and suddenly you're cosplaying Archibald Cox. I included it because it's such a good example of a transitional informal shirt. It's really not appropriate as business dress (it's for polo), but it's worn as such anyway.
posted by leotrotsky at 9:59 AM on August 22


I do think that the Wikipedia article incorrectly conflates hickory stripe denim and seersucker, which are both typically striped but are otherwise quite dissimilar. Hickory stripe denim is, well, denim... hard-wearing, heavy and close-woven. It doesn't have the characteristic alternating pucker or lightness of seersucker.

RE: sewing with seersucker, it's definitely worth holding out for 100% cotton, and getting swatches before buying anything sight unseen. Joann Fabrics sells seersucker in several pleasant colors but the weave is so light as to be almost gauzy; it's great for bow ties and would probably be OK for a summery shirt, but it's way too light for trousers or a jacket. By contrast I ordered some swatches of Kaufman's Breakers seersucker and it's great stuff; it has really nice body while remaining light and airy. I hope someday to make myself a three piece seersucker suit with one of their wide 1/4" striped varieties.
I work in an environment so casual that someone tucking in his shirt stands out for the formality.
Yeah, I don't think the "costume" problem is with seersucker specifically; it's that nobody dresses up for anything, and to do so immediately singles oneself out for scrutiny/mockery and accusations of grandpa cosplay because we don't really have the cultural vocabulary for it anymore. My thrift-store Banana Republic seersucker trousers are the most comfortable pants I own, but I don't wear them nearly as often as I might because they instantly make me look over-dressed for most occasions.
posted by Funeral march of an old jawbone at 10:05 AM on August 22 [8 favorites]


You're right, of course. But only on its own. Pair it with a sack suit, a bow, and braces and suddenly you're cosplaying Archibald Cox. I included it because it's such a good example of a transitional informal shirt. It's really not appropriate as business dress (it's for polo), but it's worn as such anyway.

Oh that's totally fair then. Where I am at least, a blue button down is the business casual uniform of choice for men. (I once noticed a rooftop with at least twelve guys, including myself, all wearing blue button downs in a narrow range of shades) For that reason, I don't think of them as part of anything I wear that seems like costume, even though they're crucial for me, when the weather starts to turn cold, and I start cosplaying as a midcentury liberal arts professor at least two days a week.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:16 PM on August 22 [1 favorite]


Seersucker looks best in light shades, and darker suits convey seriousness and sobriety.
So, perfect for all those times in contemporary life when one wants to wear a suit without conveying seriousness and sobriety. For instance, when you're part of a touring vaudville revival act or when riding backwards on a donkey as part of the local charity parade.

Until reading this, I didn't realize dark seersucker was a thing that exists. That's actually quite intriguing and worth seeking out.
posted by eotvos at 1:07 PM on August 22 [1 favorite]


This post has left me with a strong yen for a couple seersucker blouses like I used to have years ago. Yes, they were cool in the summer. Much more flattering with my aging skin and flabby arms than the tank tops I wear now. (Not that I'm giving them up either--deal with it, I'm older and don't GAD.)

And then I found this! Imagine a toddler in seersucker--I can't even...
*faints from teh cute*
posted by BlueHorse at 3:38 PM on August 22 [1 favorite]


Roland of Eld: ...it's just incomprehensible how folks in the past dealt with heat and humidity with any degree of success...

I often reflect that The Olden Days must have smelled a lot, mostly sweat and halitosis and poop -- but sweat more than most.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:42 PM on August 22 [1 favorite]


I have to think the olden days were considerably less productive.
posted by rhizome at 7:22 PM on August 22


My engineer grandfathers, wearing drill and possibly seersucker, built infrastructure the current day literally can't get itself together to maintain. "Less productive" just doesn't seem right.

(You get up before dawn in hot seasons and go straight to work on a leftover biscuit, and then when it's too hot to work you have beer and a big lunch and a nap, and then planning until it's cool enough to do another nut, and then dinner and straight to sleep. Still effective for fieldwork far away from aircon.

But yes, truly very sweaty. And no OSHA.)
posted by clew at 9:00 PM on August 22 [2 favorites]


So... like corduroy?
posted by porpoise at 10:02 PM on August 22


Not at all like corduroy. Seersucker is thin, flat and light... although it does have a slightly puckery ribbed texture due to the weaving process, it's nowhere near as pronounced as corduroy's wales. I'd never thought of it this way, but wikipedia describes corduroy as a ribbed form of velvet.
posted by Funeral march of an old jawbone at 6:28 AM on August 23


Yeah, and it doesn't go "Voop, voop, voop" when you walk either.
posted by gusottertrout at 7:22 AM on August 23


>wikipedia describes corduroy as a ribbed form of velvet.

Huh, a guy I used to know once looked like he was wearing velvet (he totally would have), but when I asked if he was, he laughed, in the only the way someone who would totally wear velvet pants can and said, no, it's corduroy with a very fine wale.

Corduroy is a wonderful fabric, though, like pajamas you can wear in public and look not just appropriate, but a little nice.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:00 AM on August 23


I grew up in Mississippi, went to school in Alabama, and have now lived in Houston for 23 years.

I keep a seersucker suit in my closet. Spending lots of cash on one is dumb, because unlike good wool suiting they don't last (my last few have been from Joey Banks, which no one would confuse with quality men's wear). I wear it several times every summer, because it's FUN.

You need a certain personality to pull it off, honestly, but down here it's absolutely not a "costume" any more than, say, boots and jeans on a lifelong Texan are a costume. I guess maybe you'd parse it that way if you habitually dress like a bum, but not everyone dresses down all the time.

My brother is an attorney in Mississippi. I suspect he wears his seersucker suits (plural!) even more often; there's a curious (and delightful) strain of sartorial flair that runs through the southern Bar, and he definitely qualifies.
posted by uberchet at 8:06 AM on August 24 [6 favorites]


So there's something I didn't get to put in the article but is super interesting: Seerscuker has strong ties to southern agricultural labor and had a revival in 60s-70s era back-to-the-land Black Liberation movements and seersucker itself, as an emblem of southern heritage, remained more popular in middle to upper class African American circles then others.
posted by The Whelk at 9:58 AM on August 25 [5 favorites]


also curious about pongee
posted by clew at 11:04 AM on August 25 [1 favorite]


and haven't found a good video of weaving seersucker, although there are lots of videos of handcraft in India. How do you keep half your warp slack?!?
posted by clew at 11:12 AM on August 25 [1 favorite]


There's also a simple article on sewing with seersucker in the recent August/September issue of Threads, and lots of examples, mostly homemade garments, if you search for seersucker on their associated website.
posted by clew at 1:03 PM on September 1 [3 favorites]


Great article! My little sister and I wore matching yellow and white seersucker playsuits over four summers in the 60s. They were sleeveless jumpsuits with shorts, that zipped up the front, with two big patch pockets. They were wonderful! Jump in and zip up. After wearing wool uniforms during school season (in TEXAS!) those playsuits were so cool and comfortable. I wish I could wear one now, but I'd have to made it myself and I hate to sew. But if any of y'all come across a 4X seersucker playsuit on the internet, let me know.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 11:18 PM on September 17 [2 favorites]


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