If you’re not southern, Seersucker may be a foreign word to you. But since we’re officially in Seersucker season with the Kentucky Derby commencing on May 6 and many hot and humid months ahead, Seersucker is a fabric to get familiar with.
Seersucker is made of linen, cotton, silk or synthetic fibers woven on twin-beam looms that give it a textured striped look. The reason for the fabric’s popularity is its lightweight and breathable keeping the wearer cool in warm climates. Also, the puckered look of the fabric means it can be worn straight out of the laundry with no ironing required.
The traditional seersucker fabric is blue and white and was used primarily for men’s suits but today you will find the fabric used for shorts, pants, shirts, skirts and dresses in a variety of pastel colors.
The fabric came to the U.S. from England after being discovered in the 1600s while trading in India. The name stems from the Persian word for “milk and sugar” likely comparing the smooth and rough stripes of the fabric to the smooth and rough texture of milk and sugar.
The fabric didn’t start as the preppy man’s summer suit. It was worn primarily by employees of gasoline companies, butchers and train engineers and railroad workers – which is wear the term “railroad stripes” originated. Likewise, hospital volunteers wore uniforms made of a red and white seersucker fabric giving them the name “candy stripers” because of the similarities of the uniform and a candy cane.
It wasn’t until after the 1920’s that the fabric gained popularity with preppy undergraduates and Southern professional men. Southerners needed a lightweight fabric for summer that would withstand the heat and humidity and keep them looking proper. The blue and white fabric was perfect for the Southern gentleman’s suit to replace their wool suits worn in the winter. Seersucker was primarily worn as a full suit or as a blazer paired with khaki trousers.
The suits also became popular in Washington D.C. Politicians and government officials who were suffocating in wool suits during summers in the Capital opted for suits made of seersucker for the warmer months. In 1996, Senator Trent Lott made seersucker famous by starting a tradition called “Seersucker Thursday”. Unfortunately, this tradition was discontinued in 2012.
With the Kentucky Derby approaching May 6, it’s time to dust off your hats and your seersucker apparel to watch the best two minutes in sports while drinking mint juleps. Oo-tray in Islamorada will be hosting the festivities including live music, themed food and drinks, and prizes for best dressed and best hat. In addition, there will be a 50/50 raffle for betting on horses with proceeds benefiting the Autism Society in the Florida Keys. Hope you can join us for bourbon and fun. See you at the races!