Waning are the days of seersucker suitings, as the milestone of Labor Day approaches. Traditionally the puckered stripes go to the back of the closet after that date, not to emerge again ’til Easter.
Long the favored fabric of the gentile South, seersucker originated in the Middle East, later finding its way to England and the Colonies. Because of the waffled texture, the cloth never makes full contact with the underlying surface. The ventilating effect makes the material cool to wear in hot temperatures.
First worn by the working class, seersucker was the staple for shirts, giving comfort to the wearer in the course of his or her labors. In the early 1900’s the material found itself in upward migration to fashionable society. The rest is history, as seersucker and mint juleps eventually became paired as perfectly as country ham and red-eye gravy.
In 1966 Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi had gained enough stroke in that hallowed chamber of government to declare that seersucker be worn by all members on a specified Thursday in July. Innocent as this seems as a simple celebration of style, the chronic naysayers quickly condemned the event as a symbol of the good-old-boy club at work. Nonetheless, the tradition continues, and at least for one fleeting day, the Senators all seem to be of the same cloth.
Perhaps there is a club that somehow binds the wearers. I am reminded of a visit to Galatoire’s one evening in the summer. It goes without saying that I donned my requisite seersucker suit for the occasion. We were called to our table from the upstairs bar, and as we reached the bottom of the stairs, an elderly couple, just ahead of us, had been similarly summoned.
The old gentleman, attired also in seersucker, had been allowed to wait seated in the foyer. He was having a great deal of difficulty in rising from his chair, so I stepped to his side and assisted him in getting to his feet. Caught a bit by surprise, he turned and looked me over in a glance. Once firmly standing with his cane in place, he leaned to me and spoke quietly in my ear as if in secret.
“Thank you, Sir,” he said, “You know, us seersucker guys have to stick together.” With that, he gave a wink and slowly shuffled away to join his bride and the Maitre d’.
Perhaps a fraternal bond does exist, woven into the fabric that worked its way from the docks and mills to the columned porches of the Southern aristocracy.
Ned Cheever lives in Texas, but his heart belongs to New Orleans. The frequent visitor writes essays for NolaVie.