A Southern Gentleman Is: The Fabric of the South

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By Doug Regen

It’s fitting I’m writing about a fabric that epitomizes the south as we wrap up the third annual Robert Hicks’ Seriously Seersucker fundraiser for O’More College of Design. Not only does this event raise money for student scholarships, but it well may be the largest seersucker gathering ever. Notably it has drawn the attention of Garden and Gun, and the great granddaughter of the seersucker suit originator, Joseph Haspel, was in attendance this year.

A quick search reveals that the word seersucker originates from the Persian words sheer and shaker, literally meaning milk and sugar. It is supposed that the smooth and wrinkled texture of the fabric is similar to milk and grainy sugar. This 100 percent cotton fabric woven via slack tension technology, helps hold it away from the skin when worn, helping with air circulation. It is also why seersucker never needs to be pressed.

Originally worn by the working class in a pre-air-conditioned society, seersucker was a practical fabric that was breathable even in the heat of summer. Seersucker was used in everything from simple shoulder strapped bags used during the civil war, to mattresses and pillow cases, to overalls and caps for train engineers, to nurses “candy stripe” uniforms. It wasn’t until clothier Joseph Haspel started making men’s suits out of the fabric that the southern gentlemanly trend started.

While the Haspel Brothers of New Orleans started their business in 1909 with work wear, specifically overalls for Louisiana factory workers, Joseph Haspel, Sr. decided to offer a light material suit specifically designed for the high heat and summer humidity they were accustomed to living in.

Associated with blue-collar laborers, it wasn’t until the 1920s, in a symbolic movement of reverse snobbery, that Ivy League students started wearing seersucker, paving the way for the fabric to become stylish and affluent.

Seersucker has become an American classic. Now available in a huge variety of pastel colors and patterns, you not only find suits, but shirts, shorts and shoes.

There are a few dress rules when it comes to wearing seersucker. Never wear a seersucker tie with a seersucker suit. Never. Don’t wear a striped bow-tie, red suspenders and a straw boater unless you are in a barbershop quartet. As far as footwear, consider wearing white bucks or a loafer. I’m a no sock guy, but you can play it safe with matching the sock color with the stripe color in the suit, or go crazy and make a statement. When it comes to tie choice, a bow tie will give you the most traditional Southern look.

Wearing seersucker comes with responsibility. As a born and raised southern gent, I adhere to the rules that you only wear seersucker, linen and white bucks between Easter and Labor Day. While many believe in the relaxed rule that if it is warm out it is okay. I’m not buying it. Respecting the traditions that are steeped in history are well, the fabric of the South.

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