Seersucker, Still Well-Suited for Summer
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
If your dad is one of those types who pulls out the seersucker suit for Father's Day brunch, you may have wondered from time to time why is it called seersucker anyway. It turns out the word comes from India where the fabric was invented. Shir-o-shakar is Hindi, and it means milk and sugar representing the two textures in the fabric.
Mr. WILLIAM IVEY LONG (Tony Award-Winning Costume Designer): The milk being smooth and the sugar being crinkly.
ELLIOTT: That's William Ivey Long, a Tony Award-winning costume designer and inveterate wearer of seersucker himself. In blue and white, it's a classic for summer men's wear. Cool on a hot day, machine washable - what could be better?
Mr. LONG: I have two seersucker suits and I wear them with great happiness because - actually seersucker was first created so that the crinkled part would allow air in between. So it wouldn't just stick to your body.
ELLIOTT: Originally, Long says, seersucker in the U.S. only grace the backs of the working class.
Mr. LONG: The common people would wear seersucker because it was inexpensive. And you could make a suit, you didn't have to iron it, you didn't have to do anything to it because it never looked iron. It always looked wrinkled. And so it became really a workingman's suit.
ELLIOTT: Long says in the 1920s, students at Princeton started wearing seersucker to prove they were just regular guys. But it didn't catch on with most of the well to do until 20 years later when suit manufacturer Joseph Haspel showed up at a major fabric convention in a seersucker suit.
Mr. LONG: And they all said, aha, there he is in that wrinkly suit. And he said, no, this is drip-dry and I'm telling you it's all-purpose. And he walked into the Atlantic Ocean and got totally wet and walked out. Everyone, of course, snickered. And then that night at the banquet, he wore that suit. It had dried, and it was looking just the same.
ELLIOTT: Convention-goers were won over and so were men across the South who were more than happy to get out of their heavy wool trousers. Seersucker is still popular with Southern gentlemen today, even among college students and U.S. senators. This coming week is seersucker Thursday in the U.S. Senate, a tradition first started by Mississippi Senator Trent Lott.
Costume designer William Ivey Long leaves us with this one warning about the fabric.
Mr. LONG: It helps if you have a white shirt underneath because often the seersucker gets completely wet and you'll see through it. So if you see through to a white bounds it looks much better than if you got a pink shirt, and then it looks sort of preposterous, very sort of like you spilled raspberry juice on you.
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