Spring’s unfolding, summer’s nearly here, and you take out your finest seersucker suit to dress up without an entirely formal air. Seersucker, both as a suit and general material, occupies that not-quite-dressy, not-quite-casual gap that, in recent seasons, has given us the party suit and made the Stan Smith the default smart-casual work shoe.
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Yet, while seersucker’s own puckered stripe texture lets the breeze literally flow through to cool your skin, the fabric itself is on the thicker side and therefore doesn’t drape like linen or traditional cotton. As you get your seersucker suit game on this summer, here’s what to keep in mind.
How Does Seersucker Work?
Over a century ago, seersucker suits gained a reputation as a Southern staple, both for their refined-yet-rugged construction and their ability to keep you cool in high humidity without compromising your dapper style. Although this is where seersucker appeared to enter American culture, its background stretches a bit further back.
As a fabric, seersucker dates back centuries to India, where it originally blended silk and cotton. After washing, the cotton predictably shrank, creating a crinkled texture that prevented the fabric from sticking directly to the skin. British colonists noted its innovative construction and how well it kept them cool in the subcontinent and brought it back to Europe.
In the U.S., seersucker’s official introduction can be traced back to Haspel, which introduced the fabric to American shores in 1909. New Orleans jazz performers and crowds were almost instantly enamored with the fabric – to the point that, during the first half of the 20th century, the two were practically intertwined. At the same time, American laborers found seersucker shirts, pants, and overalls useful, compared to traditional cotton, for working outdoors during the summer months.
Also around mid-century, Ivy League students began sporting seersucker jackets and pants – originally in an ironic, appropriative way as school dress codes loosened up in the ‘60s, but one that has since stuck. Today, seersucker’s just as much a timeless staple of Southern formal dressing as it is preppy and country club style.
The Benefits of Wearing a Seersucker Suit
As many men find out, warm-weather fabrics crease easily, almost always requiring ironing before wear and appearing semi-disheveled by the mid-afternoon. Seersucker, whether a full suit, shirt, or separates, is free from this effect. Its puckered textured and durable, midweight construction tend to resist or at least camouflage these aspects.
In turn, especially for coming off casually sharp this time of year, seersucker is comparatively low maintenance to other alternatives, and its thicker body lasts longer than rayon and nylon without tearing.
Nevertheless, seersucker still acts like cotton, particularly when it comes to stains. Unlike a wool suit, which better resists outside materials, seersucker will absorb it, and should, therefore, be dry cleaned on occasion to keep up its appearance.
Visually, seersucker’s classic vertical striped appearance provides a lengthening effect. If you’re trying to look taller or thinner, consider a seersucker suit a summertime alternative to pinstripes.
Tips for Wearing a Seersucker Suit
In spite of these advantages, wearing a seersucker suit can be a bit of a challenge, resulting in more of a period look than true, authentic warm-weather style. Here’s what you can do:
1. Find a Good Fit
With all medium-weight and heavier materials, the fabric often looks stiff and angular. Seersucker is no different. Here, a wider cut should be discouraged – you’ll look like you’re dressed in crinkled paper – and instead, aim for a slimmer fit that, in appropriate fashion, touches the top of your shoes or ankle and goes no lower. Otherwise, you risk the material bagging, which, with the textured appearance, can appear as overly wrinkled.
Similarly, in terms of wearing a seersucker jacket, pay equally close attention. Make sure the fabric stops at the wrist and doesn’t bunch up or bag around the shoulders.
2. Finishing Your Look
Because of the texture and stripes, seersucker edges into statement territory, so take that to heart. Avoid clashing patterns and bright colors; instead, for shirts, accessories, and footwear, go for darker shades or neutral, like a white, grey, or navy.
Similarly, because a seersucker suit isn’t a truly formal getup, you have a bit of wiggle room. Now’s the time for wearing a T-shirt or polo underneath, or taking out your Stan Smiths or a pair of Chelsea boots. For a more modern pop culture reference point, think about the seersucker suit ensemble Outer Banks’ John B. (Chase Stokes) wears when he and Sarah (Madelyn Cline) travel to the mainland.
However, contrasts aren’t a bad thing, but you need to be strategic. For one, if the suit is on the light side, select a darker-colored shirt or pocket square. Because they should strictly be complementary, look for a smoother fabric with less sheen – for instance, cotton, rayon, or viscose. Anything with a visible weave should be avoided.
3. Break It Up as Separates
A truly versatile suit is more than the sum of its parts, and seersucker material doesn’t change this aspect. Whether you settle on a solid shade or classic stripes, the full ensemble should be able to work with the rest of your wardrobe.
To kick it even more casual, consider pairing the seersucker jacket with jeans and a polo, or just wearing the pants with a camp collar shirt, sans blazer. This is especially true if you once (or even more recently) purchased a seersucker shorts suit. Such a novelty item lasts its sell-by date if the separates match other items in your closet.
On the subject of seersucker shorts, be sure to wash them first before wearing. Understand, too, that the material will tend to look and feel less flexible early on, until you break the pair in a bit. As such, whether you’re shopping around for a single pair or a full suit with a matching jacket, seek out a slimmer, chino cut that falls above the knee.