If you play by the rules, Easter marks the official start of seersucker season in the South. And for the stripe enthusiasts out there, a new book, Milk & Sugar details everything from the history of the textile to the role seersucker plays in the sports world, Hollywood, Washington D.C., and most importantly, all manner of celebrations across the region.
“Southerners love seersucker because it is part of our fashion heritage,” says Memphis, Tennessee, newspaper columnist, writer, attorney, and lover of all things seersucker, Bill Haltom. “It is a part of our tradition and history of Easter Sundays, family reunions, backyard cookouts, and dressing up for work or play.”
“The word “seersucker” is derived from the Persian words “sheer” and “shakkar,” meaning milk and sugar,” says Haltom. The puckered cotton fabric was first introduced to the United States by way of the British Colonial East Indies in the nineteenth century as a hardworking material for factory uniforms. New Orleans tailor Joseph Haspel made fashion history when he created the very first suit from the textile in 1909. “The very nature of seersucker made it not only lightweight, but its combination of both a bumpy and smooth texture caused the fabric to lift away from the skin when it was worn. It was a cool suit, both literally and figuratively,” says Haltom.
All manner of memorable folks make an appearance in the 200-page volume (in seersucker of course), including but not limited to Gregory Peck, Dustin Hoffman, the Duke of Windsor, and Jimmy Stewart.
The book also touches on the future of seersucker, including iterations of the fabric in darker colors and patterns other than stripes. “The designers behind the Haspel brand (relaunched in 2014) in New Orleans and designer Sid Mashburn in Atlanta are now providing an exciting new look for seersucker for everybody. It’s not just grandfather’s suit anymore,” says Haltom.