I know that some of you are just starting to reach a tentative armistice with snow and ice, but in the Deep South, spring has done sprung. The dogwoods are in bloom. Everything is in bloom, really; every car from Dallas to Charleston has enough pollen stuck to it to keep the Claritin folks in business for the year. Temperatures are bottoming out in the 70s, and on Easter Sunday, color came back to men’s wardrobes.
After months of cold, dark, and wet, it’s time to enjoy warm, bright, and sunny. And we will, with barbecues, weddings, garden parties, golf tournaments, and festivals for every historical or edible concept in the American vocabulary. For the man who wants to look his best, show some daring, and still be impeccably correct, the go-to garment for all of those warm-weather events is a seersucker suit.
Some poor souls believe that seersucker has lapsed into costumedom; that its wear is an affectation. They’re wrong. It’s a uniform, and a damn fine looking one, too. A seersucker suit marks its wearer as a member of the club of men who care about their appearance, who care about traditions, who care about giving proper dignity to an event, and who live in a real world of real weather.
It’s also part of almost every major menswear company’s spring or summer lines. A search of the Brooks Brothers website shows 90+ results for the word. That’s a big investment by a titan of American menswear. Brooks Brothers may have had some occasional missteps over the years, but this is one marker they throw down every single summer. They’re joined by trad standbys like J.Press, innovative companies like Bonobos, and bleeding edgers like Maison Kitsune. Seersucker’s neither a fad nor an anachronism; it’s a classic.
For those of us down South, it’s time right now for seersucker suits. Some think it’s too early; that Memorial Day is a hard and fast rule. They’re wrong too, of course, or at least not blessed with the Southern sun. If you live where you can already wear shorts outside for more than a workout, Memorial Day is far too late to start. Nobody voluntarily wears even a hot weather suit in actual hot weather outside; it’s hard to look elegant when your suit is soaked to your body with sweat. The best time of the year to enjoy any garment is when it actually matches the weather, and that window just opened on Easter for the seersucker suit. For those of you in cooler climes, now is the time to shop and talk to your tailor. Clambakes and regattas are just around the corner for you, too.
Aside from the obvious benefit of temperature control, one big plus of the seersucker suit is its cost. It sometimes takes a lot to stand out in a navy wool suit, but there’s not all that much competition in seersucker. You get “showing up” points long before anyone wonders what the label says, so find something that fits you well at a reasonable price. As for tailoring, I offer two small suggestions: cuffs will help the trousers drape better, but there’s no need for a break.
You’ll want to pair it with the right supporting cast, of course. You can’t go wrong with a plain white shirt and white or dirty bucks. In fact, you would be very right if you dressed that way. But patterned shirts that complement the color of the suit work well as long as the pattern is much larger than that of the suit. A ribbon or surcingle belt in bright colors is de rigeur, but braces are ideal for airflow if your suit has buttons for them. No other suit is as classically associated with the bowtie, so if you’ve previously had cold feet about the bow, pair it with seersucker; it’s practically required. As with the bowtie, if you’re interested in wearing a hat but don’t know how to start, a seersucker suit screams for a Panama straw to keep the summer sun off your head. Seersucker’s a gateway drug to the classics.
I think it’s because they know that a man wearing seersucker is dressed for pleasure that people respond so well. Seersucker doesn’t go with bad news, hard work, or funerals, and nobody wears it because they have to. Its wearer’s keeping alive traditions and making an effort to look better than average. The result is unusual; you’ll get some smiles, some compliments, and some questions. Older ladies will nod approvingly, and younger ones will pay attention. Where you go from there is up to you.
- Andrew is a born, bred, and confirmed Southerner trying day by day to live up to the gentlemanly ideal. He blogs about dressing, eating, drinking, and living well the Southern way at completesoutherngentleman.com.