I'm getting a Seersucker suit. Somebody's gonna give me a hard time.
Like, maybe they think it's archaic. Could remind them of a lot of things: barbershop quartets, mint juleps, croquet, Colonel Sanders, Trent Lott. Go ahead and hate on my new Haspel Seersucker, brother. I will wear it to your wedding, and your bride will wish she were marrying me instead.
This is a very handsome, comfortable, durable and inexpensive fabric perfect for both hot weather and an economic meltdown, and if it was good enough for Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant and Gregory Peck, it's good enough for me. Probably too good for me. But I'm getting one anyway.
Every now and then, Seersucker makes a comeback: Fashion requires revival, otherwise we'd all die from lack of nostalgia. In recent years, for example, gentlemanly celebs (yeah, I said “celebs”) like Will Smith, Taye Diggs and Luke Wilson have sported Seersucker, and articles touting its return have appeared in Esquire, GQ and the like.But, of course, it might be out of style again tomorrow. No matter, Seersucker's been the ultimate summer suit material since the freaking 1800s, so why worry about whether it's in or out of vogue? It wears well in both senses, so if the sartorial zeitgeist is really so important to you, you can closet it until it makes one of its regularly scheduled returns. Me, I'll be donning mine as soon as the tailor has finished working his magic, and every spring and summer from now until it's time to get a new one. Seersuck on that.
Here's how the magical fabric works its magic: Two layers of cotton thread—one tight, the other loose—give it a soft, crinkly texture that lifts it from the skin. It feels kind of like one of those bumpy paper coffee-cup holders, which serves the same cooling purpose. The two threading types are usually differentiated with alternating vertical, colored stripes. It's that rarity among suit materials: machine washable and needs no pressing.
And since you asked: No, it's not called Seersucker because it sucks the sweat off of you or because a lot of people who suck wear it. It was originally created in India, and got its name from the Hindi word “Sirsakar,” which the Indians borrowed from the Persian compound term “shiroshakar,” literally meaning “milk and sugar,” referring to the fabric's contrasting textures, and giving us yet another reason not to bomb Iran.
An acquisition of 18th-century British imperial enterprise, Seersucker eventually found its way into the lightweight workman's overalls of the slavery-era southern U.S. Allegedly first imported by Brooks Brothers, it was Haspel of New Orleans, founded in 1909, that became the premier Seersucker-suit maker, and by the 1920s, Haspel was synonymous with the fabric.
This must have been in part due to the colorful personality of Joe Haspel Sr., who once demonstrated his suit's versatility by wearing it into the ocean, air drying it, then putting it back on for a party that same night.
Haspel still makes 'em for about $300. Brooks Brothers, too, for between $400 and $600. Designers like Ralph Lauren and Hermes have gotten in on the act, too, selling them for up to $3,000 a pop.
In 2005, the Wall Street Journal did a Seersuck-off and rated Haspel tops in quality and value. Today Joe Haspel's relatives still run Haspel out of New Orleans: It's just one of those quintessential Big Easy institutions. Mayor Ray Nagin's dad even used to work at the Haspel factory.
I almost settled for a suit that was a bit more mass-produced, one of the fine-looking bargains they sell at Joseph Banks in the mall, but the Haspel discovery means I get to support an old fashioned New Orleans family business that specializes in traditional quality and care. I don't even mind that old Joe Haspel's great-granddaughter not only runs Haspel but is also president of a gun wholesaler. A free man might want to protect his sucker.
Another cool thing about Haspel is it offers the fabric in a lot of styles, unlike the Ralph Lauren $1,500 Seersucker suit, available in blue and white only. Haspel has the color I prefer, along with plenty of other, sometimes daring, options. You'll discover them at Haspel.com, where you'll also learn that you can't order them online and that Haspel has no retail locations. But don't give up. You can order them through one of their local-retailer partners.
And what luck it was to discover, through the Haspel site, the amazing Ron Ford, owner of Ron Stuart Men's Clothing in Downtown San Diego. Ron has been outfitting men in San Diego for about 30 years, and before that, he worked in L.A.'s legendary garment district. His tailors are old-school, European artists.
When I met him, he knew my name. Turns out he used to dress my uncle's old business partner, Jack—pretty much the best-dressed guy I ever knew, I told him.
“This is a craft, an art that is dying out. There are only a few of us left,” Ford told me.
Turns out his spring sale is on—I get a hefty 30 percent off my Haspel suit. Shipped from New Orleans, it's a two-button jacket, flat-front trousers, gray and white stripes, personally measured and fitted by Ron, tailored by Joe from Italy: $209. Now, that's just not bad for an outfit with the staying power to weather a Depression or two.I'll be remarkably easy to spot soon, sitting at the Starlite patio bar on a hot Saturday afternoon, sipping one of Kate's admirable sazeracs. Feel free to say hi. I'll even buy you a drink. But you should probably watch what you say about my suit. I might have a gun. Write to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.