Summer Serenade: When I Wore A Young Man’s Seersucker

cs1We bring Seersucker Fest 2014 to a close with these wonderful recollections from Christopher Sharp, who spearheaded our fest.

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Working on our seersucker fest 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

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11 Comments on "Summer Serenade: When I Wore A Young Man’s Seersucker"

  1. C.Sharp,

    I enjoyed this piece immensely. Thank you for sharing. I look forward to more posts like this.

  2. Look Homeward Angel in OCBD.

  3. 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…

  4. Christian | June 13, 2014 at 5:44 pm |

    Chris has given us some great historical articles, but I told him I thought this was his best personal essay.

  5. 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.

  6. Waldo Walters | June 13, 2014 at 9:22 pm |

    The Titanic menu included an iceberg wedge, I’m guessing.

  7. 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.

  8. Great story! Thanks for sharing.

  9. 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.

  10. You look the same, man. Thanks for the great memory, and the wonderful post. You are the individual we catered to. All best!

  11. @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.

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