I am reminded me of an old article in which the author finds himself staring out the window of a New England country inn on an autumn day. His only companions are a bottle of old sauterne and the ghosts of his past. He calls sauternes “memory in a glass.” My epiphany is that seersucker has become my sauterne, with a memory in every wrinkle.
The gospel was that seersucker was to be somewhat disposable, yet my three cotton suits have been dogged companions over the years. The bill for the blue seersucker, gray seersucker and blue pincord suits, bought from Brooks Brother, is dated July, 1991. An extra pair of trousers included brought the cost up to $262.50 per outfit.
I can still picture myself at my first job wearing those suits on the sales floor of the Country Couple in Ithaca, NY, surrounded by mountains of Gitman shirts and Jacob Roberts regimental ties. It was a sartorially rich time, even if nationally independent clothing retailers were struggling.
Four years later, working for community newspaper, a swarm of media came to town for a high-profile trial. As the local reporter, I was in demand for providing background to the story. One day I met Maria Effirtimades of People magazine and offered to “show her the local color.” She took one look at me in my seersucker suit and bow tie and quipped, “You are the local color.”
I’m not sure if it is self-effacing or self-indulgent to admit that one’s dubious achievements are still one’s achievements, but I have come to the conclusion they are one and the same. For example, there’s the time I convinced French restaurateur and former manager of the Rainbow Room, Roger Bouillon, to take on the “Titanic” task of preparing the full 11-course menu from the night the pride of the White Star line went down. That has nothing to do with seersucker, but my two railroad smokers did.
Our community has a scenic railroad, and in 1995 they graciously allowed my cigar club to pollute their restored 1944 dinner car. It was on June 5th that the party made its way through the 19th-century depot en route to recreating a Lucius Beebe private-car experience. The staff newspaper photographer was shanghaied into providing photography services, and some memorable photos were the result. There is the portrait of myself at left, more hair then I knew what to do with, my face not yet wrinkled, appearing happy yet haunted in the blue seersucker suit, a white Brooks Brother’s shirt, and a dot tie from Randy Hanauer. Hidden are a pair of dandy-blowing-smoke-ring braces and WalkOver bucks. I am enjoying a La Gloria Cubana torpedo secured from a personal visit to the Little Havana factory of El Credito.
A less introspective photo (see below) was chosen by the editors of Cigar Aficionado for the autumn 1995 edition. A captured moment of ourselves standing on the railroad platform, the flag flapping in the breeze on a summer night. My friend Elliot Edwards stands next to me in a Panama hat. Summer is lived at the pitch of ice clinking in a glass. That night in the summer of ’95 — and all others since — seem to have evaporated into smoke, laughter and memory.
I tried on my seersucker suits this year and neither the pants nor jackets fit. This sad news corresponded with a recent call from Elliot. He told me in the charming and breezy way in which he announces big life changes, “that it was hell getting old” and that he was “moving south.” Upon hearing this my mind flashed back to when we first met, which was at a cigar dinner in an old bank building. The conversation had started to lag at my table, and over the din of the other diners you could hear a gregarious man holding court, his table enthralled by his story. At the appropriate time I went over and introduced myself to the man wearing the blue blazer and Weejuns without socks. He put me immediately at ease, saying that he was glad I had come over because he’d wanted to tell me he liked my suit. He then got a distant, wistful look, and what he said next has echoed from that cavernous bank to my present memory: “I had a seersucker suit like that, when I was a younger man… ”
It was Damon Runyon who suggested that seersucker reconciles the rich and the poor. For myself, I have come to believe that it reconciles the old and young. In my case, however, they are the same person, as now I too can say, “I had a seersucker suit like that, when I was a younger man.” — CHRISTOPHER SHARP
I enjoyed this piece immensely. Thank you for sharing. I look forward to more posts like this.
Look Homeward Angel in OCBD.
An under remarked advantage of global warming is that we English now mostly wear seersucker too. I bought my first (grey) Haspel seersucker suit from Mr Simons in Covent Garden in 1986. At least the coat still fits…
Chris has given us some great historical articles, but I told him I thought this was his best personal essay.
Thanks all. @OCBD I think I am allowed only one getting older and fatter story.
If any one is wondering about Roger Bouillion, the last I heard was that he was Maitre d hotel at La Grenouille on 52nd street.
The Titanic menu included an iceberg wedge, I’m guessing.
Didn’t bother to replace the old seersucker. Superb. Culturally speaking, such a WASP move. Reminiscence about what was once upon a time worn or driven or used, but, long since lost or misplaced or broken or outgrown, wasn’t replaced with something new. This explains the number of ill-fitting jackets and broken down (circa early 80s) Mercedes wagons one sees now and again.
I say don the jacket and pants if at all possible. And the old neckties that still wear the lobster bisque and Famous Grouse stains. An act of defiance in a world where “the new” is rarely an improvement.
Great story! Thanks for sharing.
Seersucker is a great cloth for summer!
Strangely in Italy has not been never much popular.
In Naples seersucker was called “clò-clò”,and in the rest of Italy “rigatino” or “millerighe di cotone”.
But for some reason was not never very worn.
A urban legend said that this was because back then attendants,porters and waiters,in hotels and private houses dressed fatigue jackets (mandarine collars) in thousand lines cloth,very similiar to seersucker,
I dont know if this is the real reason.
You look the same, man. Thanks for the great memory, and the wonderful post. You are the individual we catered to. All best!
@S.E. “… the old neckties that still wear the lobster bisque and Famous Grouse stains” has a lyrical sound to it. I like it. I also wonder about “new and improved” makes me wonder if I am suppose to believe the previous product was old and crappy.
@Bob your to kind.
Chris has been distracted by life matters for quite some time. His contributions were invaluable to Ivy Style and he is much missed. Wishing him a great Labor Day Weekend.
An involving and evocative piece of prose…seersucker is an interesting fabric and part of the summer uniform and well may we wear…
Such a wonderful piece. I wish Mr. Sharp well as I put on a seersucker suit one last time before putting it away with the others, moving from languid sunny days to the “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,” as the poet put it. Goodbye summer, and hello tweed.
A trifecta for the madras shorts and white polos this long weekend. I wish tweed weather was on the horizon here. Unfortunately, It will probably be a while.
You Americans! Drinking, smoking, barbecuing, and lounging around in your comfortable duds! Anything but doing…actual labor . In Mother Russia there are May Day parades, but you Americans are all about the seersucker, Sauternes, and cigars. The irony!!!
@Christian- Yes. Being a native Texas trad I guess I should be used to it after some 70 years, but I always am anxious about the cooler weather. Kind of teases me.
Check the forecast for the latter part of this coming week. Temps are plunging into the mid-80’s! Brrrrrrrrrrr.
Having lost my black tie in the revels following a Glee Club concert in about 1983, I acquired a new one in time for Alpha Delt’s Victory Club at the Country Couple shortly thereafter. Might I have bought it from you? Interestingly, I drove through Ithaca a couple of weeks ago and stopped in at the CTB outpost in the Triphammer Mall and pointed out to my wife the storefront that formerly housed the CC. It’s a junk shop masquerading as an “antique” store now. Lawton’s and Irv Lewis are gone as well, as is Rochester’s Whillock Bros., where I bought my first seersucker suit in 1982 (end-of-summer sale; $105). But O’Connell’s, thankfully, endures and is always worth the drive to Buffalo when I’m back in central and Western NY.
John Carlos – Glad for the cold snap you are experiencing. Upper 80s here as well, so the tweeds will be of the linen and silk variety for a couple more months.
I usually get the winter duds out of storage at the local dry cleaner sometime in late October, and hand in the linen, madras, poplin and seersucker for them to clean and hold until for me until May. I really do so love the fall, and autumn clothes are best of all (that was a nice little rhyme), but am sad to be saying goodbye soon to warm evenings, fresh local figs, peaches, corn and tomatoes.