Seersucker Season in Full Sartorial Swing

It is summertime and for us lawyers, the dressing is easy. It ’s time for summer lawsuits, specifically seersucker! Seersucker is the greatest fashion invention of all time. Created in British Colonial India, its name is derived from the Hindi word ”shirosheker,” which means ”milk and sugar.” It describes the dual-textured nature of seersucker which is half smooth like milk, and half rough like sugar.

From Colonial times through the nineteenth century, seersucker was worn primarily by factory workers in the American South, laboring in the heat and humidity of mills and plants. But in 1907, a New Orleans bidnessman named Joseph Haspel came up with a bold idea: a “wash and wear” cotton business suit made from seersucker. Haspel demonstrated its effectiveness in dramatic fashion. At a Florida trade show, he gathered a large crowd on the beach. And then, clad in his new seersucker suit, Haspel dove into the ocean. He then returned to the beach and proudly announced to the crowd, “Within 15 minutes, this suit will be completely dry and will not require ironing!”

Haspel was right. The suit literally dried before the spectators’ eyes. Word about the incredible new suit spread like kudzu across the South, and seersucker suits became the business attire of choice in non-air-conditioned America.

In the 1920s Brooks Brothers unveiled a line of seersucker suits, and they suddenly became popular even north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Seersucker became a fashion fave with The Great Gatsby preppy crowd.

By the 1940s, seersucker was a fashion mainstay among Washington politicians, as FDR and President Harry Truman, as well as several United States senators adorned themselves in the cotton suits.

When America became an air-conditioned nation in the 1950s, seersucker went into a brief decline, but not for long.

In the 1963 film, To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch, played by Gregory Peck, wore a three-piece Haspel seersucker suit in a hot Alabama courtroom, and inspired thousands of lawyers, myself included, to don seersucker even in air-conditioned courthouses.

And then, in 1996, seersucker suits literally brought Republicans and Democrats together in the United States Senate.

Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott decided the time had come to revive the Senate’s sartorial tradition. As the Senate Majority Leader, he announced that the third Thursday in June each year would be “Seersucker Thursday.” He urged his colleagues to prove that “the Senate isn’t just a bunch of dowdy folks wearing dark suits and a red or blue tie.”

He was joined in this bipartisan fashion call by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. Feinstein urged her female colleagues in the Senate to join in the bipartisan fashion statement. “I watched the men preening in the Senate,” she said, “and I figured we should give them a little bit of a horse race.” Senator Feinstein gave 11 of her female Senate colleagues seersucker dress suits.

And then, in the spirit of bipartisan camaraderie, Democrat and Republican Senators gathered together on the floor of the United States Senate, wearing the genteel summer-weight puckered cotton. It was a marvelous sight.

Just one year before the advent of Seersucker Thursday, the federal government had shut down after a big fight between President Clinton, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and Democrat and Republican members of the Senate and House.

But a year later, as Republican and Democratic members of the Senate posed side-by-side on Seersucker Thursday, the federal government began to function again. In a few years, the federal budget had miraculously been balanced, and we were paying off the national debt.

Coincidence? I think not. It was a bipartisan seersucker solution to America ’s problems.

Seersucker Thursday continued for several years. And then, sadly, the seersucker bond was broken. The Washington Post reported it was cancelled because “Sen. Lott’s former colleagues thought it would be politically unwise to be seen doing something frivolous when there is so much conflict over major issues.”

And so now, members of the Senate have quit doing something “frivolous,” like standing side-by-side in light cotton suits and powdered white bucks, smiling and laughing, and treating each other with respect. They are back to dark suits and serious, hateful expressions. Consequently, the whole country is going to hell in a worsted wool hand basket.

But while the politicians have given up Seersucker Thursday, non-politicians have taken up the cause, donning seersucker even in an air-conditioned era. Some folks say that seersucker has made a “comeback.” I say it never went away.

Joseph Haspel’s great granddaughter, Laurie Haspel Aronson, is now president of the iconic seersucker company her great grandfather started a century ago. In a recent interview with the New Orleans Times Picayune, Ms. Aronson summarized the magic of seersucker:  “It’s the whole feeling and attitude … being fun, being comfortable in your clothes, not being taken too seriously … always looking put-together, always looking effortless. You just put a seersucker suit on and you look good … you don ’t become a Haspel man by wearing that suit. You are who you are, but wearing that suit makes your attitude come out.”

On Friday, Aug. 29, well-dressed Tennessee lawyers will celebrate seersucker in the Fourth Annual Tennessee Seersucker Flash Mob. This event was started by the Knoxville Bar Association and has been held in Memphis for the last two years. But this year, we’re going statewide with simultaneous seersucker sartorial splendor celebrations in Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga and Knoxville. Mark your calendar for Aug. 29 and watch for more information on this in August from the Tennessee Bar on TBA Today and on my website/blog, www.billhaltom,com

In the meantime, enjoy wearing the classic summer lawsuit! Laurie Aronson is absolutely right! It’s fun, and it makes us all look great!


Bill Haltom BILL HALTOM is a shareholder with the firm of Lewis Thomason. He is a past president of the Tennessee Bar Association and a past president of the Memphis Bar Association. Read his blog at www.billhaltom.com.