Why Southerners Will Always Love Seersucker In Spring

The fabric evokes memories of blooming flowers and warm days, but it's no lightweight in the fashion world.

little boy and little girl in seersucker outfits holding hands and easter baskets

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It's springtime in the South. The weather is warming, the sweet tea is cold, and the proverbial frogs are jumping. There's deviled eggs, glazed ham, and biscuits on the table. Men are strolling in blue-and-white striped suits, while toddlers are in jon jons and dainty dresses with smocked bunnies.

What are their garments made of? It’s a lightweight fabric that makes warm temperatures feel cooler, while still being stylish: seersucker.

While you know the fabric on sight, do you equate seersucker only with striped Easter outfits that look great in family pictures? We bet you have photographs of your kids with Easter eggs in their hands and matching seersucker outfits.

But there's so much more to seersucker than spring pictures and matching outfits. We went in search of seersucker information and discovered a long history and practical uses beyond familiar spring garments that we hope will have you loving seersucker, too.

What Is Seersucker? Why Is It Called That?

There’s something about the fabric’s name that sounds funny when you say it. Is there a seer involved? Or a sucker?

While it’s easy to identify the fabric in dresses, swimsuits, men’s suits, and toddler rompers, to define the textile, we went to Merriam-Webster. They write that it is "a light fabric of linen, cotton, or rayon usually striped and slightly puckered."

To get to the bottom of the fabric’s name, we went to the Encyclopedia of Textiles and found the storied history of seersucker on a journey from England to the United States, via 1600s trade with India.

Seersucker was first known as shirushakar or shir o shakka, which means "milk and sugar" in Persian. The fabric features two woven textures that correspond to two Persian words—the gritty side is sugar or shakar, and the smooth or milk sections translate to milk or shir.

Seersucker found its ways to popularity in the 1920s, particularly in the South because of how cool the fabric wears in the hottest temps.

Why Does Seersucker Feel Cooler When Wearing It?

When it's hot in the South and you want to dress nicely for church, work, or brunch, even a tropical wool suit can feel heavy.

Seersucker, however, is most often made from a cotton textile weave. It's a cooler fabric simply because of how the threads are woven together. With a raised and flat weave, the raised portion of the fabric naturally stands away from the skin just enough to reduce sweating.

Textile Tip

Take a closer look at seersucker garments to see the subtle weave differences. Also feel the difference between the raised and flat sections.

A Southern Specialty: Seersucker Suits and Celebrations

Southerners love seersucker, also known as railroad stripe, so much that it has its own day and celebrations: National Seersucker Day and Seersucker Sunday. Organizations like banks and fraternities hold special seersucker days, too.

While there are myriad other companies that sell seersucker, Haspel of Louisiana is known as the "Originator of the Seersucker Suit." Today, they specialize in selling traditional seersucker favorites, while also introducing new options to keep the fabric fresh.

Haspel EVP and managing director Will Swillie filled us in on National Seersucker Day and Congress’s love of the fabric.

"In 1996, Senator Trent Lott, of Mississippi, initiated the first National Seersucker Day in the United States Congress. His objective was to create a non-partisan activity to bring some Southern tradition to Washington, D.C.," Swillie says. "Today, this effort is continued by Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana in close partnership with Haspel. Celebrations of seersucker happen all over the country on the second Thursday of each June. In 2023, National Seersucker Day will be celebrated on June 8th."

If you can't make it to D.C. for National Seersucker Day, Haspel hosts a garden party at the New Orleans Four Seasons Hotel for anyone to attend: "Haspel is partnering for the second year with the hotel for the event to celebrate all things seersucker; the public is invited to join them for signature cocktails, hor d'oeuvres, and live jazz music. Our only ask—wear your best seersucker outfit and hat," Swille says.

Gregory Peck in a seersucker suit in To Kill A Mockingbird
Gregory Peck famously wore a Haspel seersucker suit in the movie "To Kill a Mockingbird," says Swillie.

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Early Uses for Seersucker

The familiar blue-and-white seersucker goes back to its two predominant uses in the early 20th century: railroad conductor attire and mattress stripe ticking. That classic duo is still widely used today, but seersucker is available in a wide range of mostly pastel colors, predominantly combined with white.

Swillie let us know how many color combinations Haspel uses, and he also shares how Haspel first used seersucker—it wasn’t for men’s suits!

"While Haspel did not create the seersucker fabric, we are the originator of ‘The Seersucker Suit.' In the summer of 1946, Joseph Haspel, Sr. walked into the Atlantic Ocean wearing his legendary wash-and-wear suit to prove its worth. He hung it to drip dry and wore it again that night to a cocktail party. Because of the cooling characteristics of seersucker, Mr. Haspel realized this fabric would make the perfect suit for professional men during the hot summer days in New Orleans."

Currently, Haspel runs 14 colors of seersucker suits and countless styles and colors of shirts, shorts, and other apparel.

But before they were the go-to shop for seersucker suits and wardrobe pieces for the stylish Southerner, Haspel manufactured seersucker workwear for railroad and prison uniforms, Swillie says.

Do You Need to Iron Seersucker Fabrics? 

Not needing to iron it may be one of the best features of seersucker on warm spring days. The “sucker” part of the fabric is naturally puckered. And that means that (unlike with a flat weave linen) ironing is not necessary or even encouraged. You’ll be extra cool not having to stand over the ironing board.

Places To Buy Seersucker

Ready to add a few seersucker pieces to your closet? Shop some of our favorite stores and boutiques:

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