Bathing Suit: Joseph Haspel Goes Swimming In Seersucker, 1946


One summer day in 1946, Joseph Haspel, Sr. walked neck deep into the Atlantic Ocean wearing one of his family’s seersucker suits. He emerged from the ocean a part of clothing lore.

Haspel was attending a convention in Boca Raton, Florida, when he took his now famous dip into the sea. Afterwards he hung his suit over his hotel room tub to drip dry. Later that evening, those who had seen him in his unrthodox bathing attire were equally surprised to see him wearing the same suit, and his act was the hit of the Middle South Utilities Inc. banquet.

The seaside plunge, alas, was no personal idiosyncrasy. There was a practical reason for it, namely to demonstrate Haspel’s new easy-care cotton and Orlon suit.

Many readers have likely heard some version of this twice-told tale. We contacted Haspel to ask if it were true, and they were happy to provide this photo documentation. — CHRISTOPHER SHARP



20 Comments on "Bathing Suit: Joseph Haspel Goes Swimming In Seersucker, 1946"

  1. Ah, the lost age of Wash-n-Wear and Drip-Dry! I saw a Brooks Wash-n-Wear/Drip-Dry poplin suit a few years ago at a thrift store. I would have gotten it, but it was not my size. Perfect shade of blue, too.

  2. Orlon in 1946??
    Maybe rayon.

  3. posion ivy | June 7, 2014 at 11:09 pm |

    orlon was invented in 1941

  4. Does anyone have any information: In 1962-1965 there were trousers & suits sold in the best store in my small town(the same store that sold Baracuta jackets & Gant Shirts) that were lightweight ,but not wool, made of a fine fabric blend, not Dacron or Orlon, which were sold under the brand name “Doncaster” .

  5. The Doncaster clothing was made of viscose or a viscose blend and were much more elegant than Dacron cotton similar clothing .

  6. 1946 is too much early.
    Orlon was invented in 1941,but first articles on “miracle fibers” are from 1949 circa.
    And blend with cotton were not perfectonated in 1946.
    Infact Brooks Brothers in 1948-49 offer blend with rayon in summer.

  7. “DuPont introduced its trademarked Orlon acrylic fibre in 1948; Orlon was soon followed by the Monsanto Chemical Company’s Acrilan, American Cyanamid’s Creslan, Courtaulds’ Courtelle, and others”,

    “The development of Orlon acrylic fiber stemmed from DuPont’s work on rayon. In 1941 a DuPont scientist seeking to improve rayon discovered a means of spinning acrylic polymer–which unlike nylon, decomposes rather than melts – through a solution. DuPont began developing the substance dubbed “Fiber A.” Initially the material was targeted as a replacement for wool, but difficulties in spinning and dyeing soon cropped up. In 1950 the May Plant in Camden, S.C., went into production of the material renamed Orlon”.

    “1948 orlon DuPont (USA)”.

    The “ORLON” trademark, serial number 71565323 , was filed on 17th of September 1948 with a mark drawing code of 1000 and its transaction date is 71565323.

  8. So,a possible blend “orlon”-cotton in 1946 is simply a thing that not exist.
    Probably the”seersucker bathing suit” was in some type of cotton-celanese rayon blend.

    Here two 1949 advertising for Haspel seersucker suits.
    You can read that the various blend are cotton /celanese (rayon).

    ……And we are already in 1949.

  9. Additional info

    Haspel was a promoter of Rayon-nylon blends you see in the 1940’s ads.

    A small pilot plant for making Orlon was opened in 1946. Cambridge History of Western textiles vol 1 pg 953

    In 1949 a new plant or Orlon was set up by Dupont-mentioned in a trade journal

    A book titled Why People Buy -talks about Dupont and Dana River Mills developing an Orlon cotton blend seersucker in 1951 with Haspel selling suits of it in 1952.

    The original source for date and fiber content in article was J. Haspel Jr. in the 70’s.

  10. So in 1946 Orlon development was in early state.
    Seems really lmprobable that a cotton/orlon blend was already ready for fashion industry.
    In 1949,three years after,Haspel blend for seersucker suits was still cotton/rayon,none trace of orlon in their advertisment.

  11. “Dupont and Dana River Mills developing an Orlon cotton blend seersucker in 1951 with Haspel selling suits of it in 1952”.

    Thanks for these informations.
    Is yet more late of what they believed; I thought to 1950 for first orlon-cotton blend seersucker.
    Anyway is six years after 1946.
    I think that the suit of Mr Joseph Haspel was some type of cotton/Celanese-rayon blend,or maybe some very early type of cotton-nylon blend ( here a advertisment of 1950,though i could not find a Haspel
    cotton-nylon blend advertisment before 1950):

    Definitely the suit was not “orlon-cotton”.

  12. @Carmelo it certainly appears that your instincts are correct. It does not look like there was a cotton-Orlon blend suit in seersucker made by Haspel available to the public before 1952. I think we have encountered one of the fundamental flaws of lore. Too much examination and something breaks down. J. Haspel jr. was asked about the event in 1977, three decades more or less after the event and he put the date at 1946 and the suit content at Orlon. If it was 1946 it was as you suggest another suit, I think the date is too early for a field test of a prototype of Orlon. If the date move 6 to eight years in the future and we could have our Orlon suit. To add another wrinkle Leo Haspel was to have to have made a pool plunge to demonstrate the same thing.

  13. Correction should read- To add another wrinkle Leo Haspel was said to have made a pool plunge to demonstrate the same thing.

  14. “If it was 1946”.

    And this open another question:
    Lapels are not too much slender for 1946?
    If you look to the Haspel advertisment of late 40s,lapels seems more large,and so the shoulders.
    The suit in the picture scream 1950s to me.

  15. VernTrotter | May 12, 2021 at 11:08 am |

    I recall wanting one of these suits badly in the summer of 1957. The real problem as I was off to college that fall: there was nowhere to wear one in the summer months in the St. Louis/ southern Illinois area for me as a student: it was much too hot even for this material. The price, I believe, was only around $20 – $25. A couple of years before I had two of similar material from Brooks. Fond memories brought back.

  16. Jack Ancker | May 12, 2021 at 2:53 pm |

    If the lapels “scream 1950s” to you, the suit could very well have been Orlon, right?

  17. Charlottesville | May 12, 2021 at 3:29 pm |

    I recall that Brooks still had several “wash-and-wear” suits on offer in the mid-80s, including cotton (or maybe a cotton blend) seersucker, a poplin blend and a Dacron/wool blend. I bought a couple of each when I was in school and clerking in law firms because they were the cheapest suits in the store, light enough for summer in DC, and cut in the recognized BB manner. But I never actually tried to wash one. A friend tried it with a seersucker number, and the suit did not come out well. Maybe hand-washing would have been the better choice.

  18. Wm. Cochrane | May 13, 2021 at 1:56 am |

    My father wore Haspel cotton/dacron suits, pincord usually, for all of my childhood and I bought them growing up and well into my 30s. That was in D.C. and North Carolina. I still have one or two, they were that well made. It wasn’t until I was in my mid 20s that I tried washing one that had gotten a little too dirty and as it was an old one I thought…”Well, what have I got to lose”. I just washed the jacket. It came out perfect, and when I compared it to the suit’s slacks they were clearly a little dingy. This after years of regular dry cleaning. I tossed the slacks in the next laundry load and they too came back perfect and BRIGHT. A quick press by the cleaners and the suit looked like new. The all cotton numbers everyone is so excited about now leave me cold. They stain easily and look ratty in short order. I wish Haspel would make the cotton/poly ones again.

  19. Charlottesville | May 13, 2021 at 10:59 am |

    On a totally unrelated subject, the J. Press Warehouse Sale has started. I picked up a pair of tropical wool trousers for $39 and a suit for about $250. There are lots of other deals online, including ancient madder ties for $19. I know I sound like a shill, but I always get great buys during this sale, and the items don’t last long, at least in my size. Worth a look at least.

  20. Charlottesville | May 13, 2021 at 3:30 pm |

    Mr. Cochrane – I am glad that your experience with the laundry went better than that of my friend. Along with several cotton seersucker suits from Brooks in the 80s and from Press in the 90s (all still in regular summer rotation), I have a BB light blue pincord that sounds very similar to the Haspel version you describe, and it has the wash-and-wear-label on the inside pocket. Perhaps one day … . We’ll see.

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