Though I grew up with a father who cared deeply about the latest runway fashions, my personal style has always been more Patti Mayonnaise-meets-the-dad-from-Frasier. I went through a bike-shorts phase. I don’t really know how to accessorize. I’m still trying to bring back turtlenecks.
But with all my sartorial limitations, I do know a few truths about men’s fashion. If a dude is wearing a puka shell necklace, a thumb ring or Ed Hardy anything, cut a trail in the opposite direction. And if a guy wears a seersucker suit, he’s probably Southern — or trying really hard to look like it.
Not just any kind of Southern, though: the Southern gentile. Seersucker is a favorite fabric of lawyers, politicians and prepsters in the hot-and-humid south, and one of the few styles of American dress that connotes an immediate sense of place. Becoming a Seersucker Man is often a serious commitment — in some cases it can even be an accepted substitute for having a personality. I’ve always assumed that if seersucker could speak it would have the voice of Foghorn Leghorn. Seersucker would probably drive a vintage Cadillac.
A lightweight, breezy fabric that usually appears in crinkly blue-and-white pinstripes, seersucker tends to be seen as jokey and jovial: a socially acceptable way to play dress-up. I’m no hater, though. As a Kentucky-born, New Orleans-residing gal, I’ve been steeped in the fabric my whole life. I’ve worn it. I’ve dated swoopy-haired boys who swore by it. I’ve also been fascinated by its name, which is derived from a Persian word, shīr o shakkar (“of milk and sugar”), and found its first U.S. outpost in New Orleans in 1909. It still all-too-often feels like a class marker, though, and that’s a shame.
Why? Well, for one thing, it does breathe (as the fashion kiddos say) so damn well. The material was created for hot weather, and will make you feel as if all other summertime clothing is dead-set on drowning you in your own sweat. It is practical as all get out, and it requires very little work to look fantastic. Shouldn’t seersucker be for everyone?
Wondering whether it can be, I asked four seersucker-loving men — the Classicist, the Skeptic, the Stylemaker and the Yankee — to explain their sartorial mindsets.
About two years ago, I made a conscious decision to get into fashion, or as I understand it, “style.” When I was growing up, it always seemed to me that you either had style or you didn’t — it was some kind of internal thing. I mostly just wore t-shirts from every place I’d ever been through college and law school, so clearly I wasn’t born with it.
My understanding now, though, is that there’s a system, and once you learn the rules, it’s actually easy. Also, the moment you start making any sort of move toward dressing appropriately after a lifetime of not doing it, people give you positive reinforcement. It’s kind of like how it’s easier to keep losing weight once you start.
I have a very specific look I’m going for most of the time, and I think my goal when I’m dressing myself is to wear the most appropriate style for that particular event. For example, I’m in a position where I have to go to the [horseracing] track a lot — Churchill Downs, Keeneland — and on those occasions a seersucker blazer makes sense.
A full seersucker suit looks a little ridiculous, and there’s an almost childlike element to it. I mean, you look like a little boy if you wear one. That’s why I stick with just the blazer. Wearing the seersucker blazer has turned into my sartorial nod to the South, so to speak.
I went to a wedding recently in Wisconsin with my girlfriend, and the invitation said we could wear whatever we wanted. I knew everyone would be extremely well-dressed — it was a bunch of people from Middlebury — so I wore my seersucker blazer as a hat tip to my Kentucky roots. I think they expected that from me, but there’s definitely an element of fraud to anyone wearing seersucker. It’s an overt way to connote a certain kind of superficial Southerness more so than anything else that a man could wear. So when I do it, I do it with the knowledge that it’s the quasi-superficial thing.
New Orleans, Louisiana
The first time I bought a seersucker suit was in 1998, when I was getting ready to go off to college. I was thrift-store shopping with my mom, and I saw two suits, and they were beautiful. I knew I needed to trim them up a little bit, but two suits under $20? That’s amazing. I didn’t know many of my peers that were wearing it, but it appealed to me.
I brought them to the cleaners, then got them tailored. One was charcoal stripes, and the other was the more traditional blue. I got some nice shoes to go with them, and brought them to college in Tennessee with me. My peers hadn’t seen seersucker yet, I guess, so I’d get questions from my fraternity brothers in Kappa Alpha Psi like, “Where you going lookin’ like a train conductor?”
A couple of years later, everything changed. Method Man and Red Man came to New Orleans for an MTV special, and part of that included them being made into “Southern Gentlemen” and wearing seersucker suits. So, all of a sudden, since Method and Red were wearing seersucker, all my brothers thought it was cool. It’s far more prominent today in the African-American community than it used to be: It’s just such a functional fabric, and looks really good, too.
Nowadays, they have seersucker everything. But it’s important to remember that seersucker is a fabric — not a print. I have monochromatic seersucker; I have African-print seersucker; I’ve seen seersucker tuxedos! The fit is much more modern, so people are adding a contemporary touch to it.
Raleigh, North Carolina
I didn’t grow up wearing seersucker — it’s not like I wore it in high school or anything. Embarrassingly enough, I bought my first seersucker suit online, but it’s a Haspel, and it’s still awesome. It’s hanging together by the last threads.
Seersucker has never not been a trend in Raleigh. I’m a minor politician and attorney, and the battle in my circles is over when you can start wearing seersucker. My opinion is that if it’s after Easter and over 80 degrees, you can do it, but traditionalists say you have to wait until after Memorial Day and never before. There are also some other rules I adhere to when I wear seersucker. I wear the full suit, but I go with a long tie and not a bowtie. I think people should stick with classic blue seersucker suits, and always wear white bucks or dirty bucks with it. I have a colleague who has yellow and green and red seersucker suits, but with those you just end up looking like a candy striper. And I’d never put on a straw hat — then it just starts to feel like a costume. Some dandies around here do that, though.
I thought people might be chuckling at me the first time I wore a seersucker suit, but I have no problem if people think I look funny. The suits are sharp as long as you don’t overdo it. If I ever see another lawyer in seersucker, I think, “That guy is smart enough to realize it is 98 degrees outside and he doesn’t want to sweat through his suit. I should be wary of that lawyer!” No one is going to be mad when you walk into a jury trial in July in seersucker.
We have a group here that we call the Seersucker Caucus that meets once a month in the summer for lunch and drinks. When we first started off, we had five or six people, and at our first meeting this year we had over 40. Nothing has quite the same attitude as seersucker. We’re geeks about it. I’d even wear seersucker cargo shorts if they made them! (Just kidding.)
New York, New York
I’m from Connecticut, so wearing seersucker wasn’t generally a regular thing when I was young, but I’m sure there’s a photo somewhere of me as a kid in a little Easter suit or something.
My job with Broadway Inbound takes me to places like Georgia and Alabama, and since I go south of the Mason-Dixon so much, I decided that a seersucker suit is a good way to both blend in and stand out at the same time. This Yankee tries to fit in as a Southern dandy, and seersucker is the way to do that.
I always go for the full-on ice-cream man look. I think wearing the suit is a statement. You have to get in there and commit: There’s nothing more fun than leaning into a look and fully embracing it. I’m a former performer, so I like that it surprises people sometimes, especially in New York. You definitely have more seersucker brothers-in-arms in places like New Orleans.
A white linen suit is the only other thing I can really think of that’s like seersucker, and if you do that wrong, you can end up looking like Colonel Sanders. But do it right, and both looks are very Southern gentile.