Seersucker: Southern Summer Staple

Design Features

While it’s not a new fabric, it seems like seersucker has been getting a lot of attention this year. The weirdest press came from Missouri Senator Ryan McKenna, who, in April 2013, wanted to ban seersucker for people over the age of 8 because “adults look ridiculous” in seersucker suits. McKenna later said he was joking, but his original intent was a sign that some people just aren’t into the summer fabric.

Esquire took a different approach to seersucker this summer in their June/July issue, praising J.Crew for the company’s navy blue seersucker suit, calling it The New Seersucker and pointing out that there’s more to the fabric than the traditional blue and white stripes.

But despite these differing opinions on the fabric, seersucker is not going anywhere. Thanks to its lightweight feel, seersucker continues to be a must-have for those suffering from the steamy days of summer, making it a good choice if you’re looking for a last-minute piece to pick up for the season before you don your fall apparel.

“Seersucker by definition is a light, summery fabric choice,” says Kate Grace Bauer, a stylist in New Orleans. “If you look at it as clear functionality, because of the weave process, it allows for heat circulation and air circulation, so it’s a comfortable choice for men.”

In the U.S., seersucker was first made popular as a fabric for the working class because it was affordable and kept people cool in the summer. According to The New York Times, college kids started wearing the fabric in the 1920s “in a spirit of reverse snobbery.” After that, seersucker caught on as a popular go-to summer look, especially for Southern men. “It’s a happy fabric,” Bauer says, “allowing for comfort and Southern chic all in one place.”

Seersucker has also become a go-to for women, and it’s been getting much more chic in recent years. One brand to thank for that is Jolie and Elizabeth, a New Orleans-based brand that designers Sarah Elizabeth Dewey and Jolie Bensen started in 2010.

“We launched with seersucker,” Dewey says. “We wanted it to be the base. We really wanted to focus and do some different things with it, do some classical things. We’ve seen our audience grow just because they love the fabric.”

The duo has been featured in Southern Living and Forbes, and they received a nice shout-out when Zooey Deschanel wore one of their pieces for New Girl. The designers have also been praised for their “Made in Louisiana” label, as all of their products are made about 30 minutes from their New Orleans office.

While the designers originally thought of seersucker as a Southern style, they have found since they started their company that seersucker has national appeal; Jolie and Elizabeth can now be found in states around the country, including Texas, Ohio and Vermont.

“We always kind of thought of it as a Southern thing,” Dewey says. “We’re used to seeing men in seersucker suits, and it’s just something I associate with it being really hot down here. But it’s also really popular in the Northeast, like Boston and Vermont and Nantucket. They really love it, too.”

Jolie and Elizabeth’s pieces are examples of how seersucker has evolved, and how it can go beyond the “preppy” label. Just like how J.Crew’s navy blue suit shows a different way to use seersucker, Jolie and Elizabeth often mix the fabric with other materials to put a new spin on the style. Their Feliciana dress, for instance, pairs seersucker with silk chiffon and Silk Crepe de Chine, and has a high-low hem, creating a dress that looks more trendy than preppy.

Bauer considers the versatility of seersucker endless, as one of her favorite things to do as a stylist is to “funk it up.” “I personally love the juxtaposition of pairing a seersucker dress with a funky belt, pair of fabulous heels and layered with great statement jewelry pieces,” Bauer says. “One of my favorite things to do is take something that has a stigma of being ‘too this’ or ‘too that’ and turn it around to something that’s approachable to multiple types of people and can be impacted by different trends.” For example, Bauer suggests pairing a seersucker skirt and white tank with motorcycle boots.

For women simply looking for a first seersucker piece, Dewey suggests thinking of a favorite dress and picturing that in the fabric. “We have a lot of dresses that are cotton and they have seersucker accents,” Dewey says. “A lot of girls like to wear wrap dresses in the summer, so we have a seersucker wrap dress.”

Dewey adds that even though some people think seersucker is hard to pull off, she and co-designer Bensen have “converted quite a few people.” “Some people say ‘I’ve never worn it before’ so they’re a little cautious, but then they’ll put it on and it will be so comfortable that they’ll be an automatic fan,” Dewey says.

For those new to seersucker, one other important factor to note is the “rule” of when to wear the fabric. Dewey says seersucker should typically only be worn between Easter and Labor Day, but that can also depend on someone’s personal style. “I like to break the rules, so I wear it if it’s hot,” Dewey says. “But I think everyone gets the urge to wear their new fall stuff in September, so that’s kind of when it stops.”

But no matter when you wear it, seersucker will continue to be a trend for the rest of this summer and the summers to come, even for those who live far from the South. “I think that every woman should have at least one seersucker piece,” Bauer says. “You don’t necessarily need to commit to an entire dress, but a classic pair of high-waisted seersucker pants or shorts or a skirt is something that is a fun staple to have in one’s closet repertoire.”

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