Today is National Seersucker Day, which grew out of Seersucker Thursday on Capitol Hill. But while the day’s origins are clear, the beginnings of the fabric itself are somewhat contested. Both Haspel in New Orleans and Brooks Brothers in New York claim to have either introduced or popularized seersucker.
This is from Haspel’s website:
On the contrary, an article on Brooks Brothers’ history at Gentleman’s Gazette claims that Brooks introduced seersucker in 1870, though it does not provide a citation.
This CNN article from 2013 has spokespersons from both Brooks and Haspel plead their cases:
Seersucker is one of a handful of fabrics — like denim and jersey — that has cultivated a distinctly American identity. Even though the fabric has ancient roots in Persia and India — its name derived from a phrase that translates as “milk and sugar” — it has been used to outfit men (and women) up and down the U.S. East and Gulf coasts for more than a century, according to Brooks Brothers’ in-house historian, Kelly Nickel.
In America, seersucker started out as a blue-collar fabric, used by service staff and factory workers to cope with soaring temperatures in and out of pre-air conditioned buildings. But an interesting social phenomenon happened in the 1920s, thanks to the advent of the seersucker suit, as popularized by Ivy Leaguers and high society men outfitted in Haspel and Brooks Brothers.
Haspel of New Orleans lays a claim to originating the seersucker suit, circa 1909. Joseph Haspel had a business producing seersucker overalls for Louisiana factory workers at the turn of the 20th century, when he put his sewing skills into a practical and stylish suit. In a flamboyant sales pitch, Haspel wore his seersucker suit to the beach, jumped into the ocean and was dry by dinner, said his great granddaughter and current president of the company Laurie Aronson.
“We’re the originators, not the imitators,” she said. “Haspel still does it best.”
Brooks Brothers started selling seersucker suits in the 1920s, said Nickel. While the origin of the seersucker suit may lay with Haspel, Brooks Brothers is the one who popularized it, she said.
What exactly happened in the ’10s and ’20s is harder to pin down. What is clearer is that by the 1930s the fabric was in full swing. The following is an ad Brooks Brothers took out in the Yale Daily News in 1932:
This ad, also from 1932, shows that the other Ivy League clothiers were also offering the fabric:
I reached out to Bruce Boyer, who said, “They might both be right. Haspel may have been the ‘originator,’ but Brooks may have introduced the fabric to the Eastern Establishment. In the ‘Esquire Encyclopedia,’ it’s mentioned that writer Damon Runyon rather introduced the seersucker suit to New York.”
I like the idea that each did its part to popuarlize the fabric, which eventually went nationwide. And that’s why it’s called National Seersucker Day. It’s nice to see the country come together once in a while. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD
Top image via Regattas & Repp Ties