All about one of the most timeless fabrics designed to beat the heat
Well, it’s finally starting to feel like summer out there. Unfortunately, along with the days at the pool, backyard cookouts, baseball games and trips to the beach, summer also brings the inevitable steamy rides to work on the train, sweaty lunch breaks and a generally overheated existence. Which means that it’s also just about time to start busting out the summer fabrics.
One of the most effective and most timeless fabrics to beat the heat is seersucker, a true southern classic. A cotton fabric, the truly distinctive characteristic that all seersucker pieces have is a unique puckering in the cloth itself. Traditionally, the most common pattern for a seersucker fabric is white with light blue stripes, in which case the puckering runs along the stripes. However, these days seersucker comes in all sorts of patterns, from checks to stripes to solids, and the pattern of puckering adjusts accordingly.
As for how that puckering is actually created, I’ll be completely honest when I say that the process is a bit over my head. I do know that it involves a technique called slack-tension weaving, and is an adjustment on the general method used to weave any sort of stripe.
Beyond that, I’d have to let a textile expert take the reigns. That said, the biggest takeaway is that it is a bit of a slow process. Because of this, seersucker items are usually considered generally high cost and low profit, which might be why we don’t see even more of the cloth in stores.
So what’s the point of all this puckering? First, it definitely adds to the character of the cloth. The vibe is just a bit more rumpled and loose, invoking a classic, laid-back southern feel that is very true to the origins of the fabric. It’s an effect that is very similar to the wrinkles in a linen or cotton piece. This isn’t to say that seersucker can’t be sharp and stylish, but it’s more suited to similar summer fabrics than, say, a slick black tie outfit.
More importantly, however, the puckering is actually the exact attribute that makes seersucker so suited to warm weather. The texture keeps the fabric off the skin, allowing more airflow to keep you cool and comfortable. Add that to a generally looser weave, and your unsightly pit stains may be a thing of the past. May be…
Seersucker was first developed by British clothmakers back in their colonial heyday, when the cooling fabric was quite popular among the warmer weather colonies like India and northern Africa. However, once the fabric was introduced in the US, the southern gents really seized the style and made it their own.
Hence today the word ‘sersucker’ most often evokes an image of a classic southern dandy, and is heavily used by southern designers like Haspel. Apparently, it was also at one point widely used for bedding and sheets, again for its cooling qualities, but we’ll focus on the duds.
The most common use of seersucker is definitely in shirting, where the cooling effects make the most difference, but these days it’s not hard to find seersucker shorts, trousers, suiting, even accessories like ties and pocket squares. And sure, a seersucker tie won’t feel any cooler around your neck, but you sure will look cooler as you embrace the summer heat in style.
Thanks for reading.
He Spoke Style