Seersucker is a cotton fabric with a name deriving from the Persian term shir o shakar, which means milk and sugar. The fabric was initially made in Iraq, but it was popularized in America, especially for men’s clothing.
This textile is made by what is called a slack-tension weave, where groups of yarn are bunched together in certain portions of the fabric to create a puckered, almost wrinkled look. In fact, it’s usually unnecessary to iron seersucker garments because they are supposed to look slightly wrinkly. The puckering effect of the weave creates a wonderful feature in these garments. They tend to be much cooler to wear because airspace is created between the body and parts of the clothing.
Initially, seersucker was the fabric of choice for working class men, especially when they had to work in hot weather. It later was adopted by the upper classes, and was especially associated with the Southern gentleman’s suit. A seersucker suit was standard wear for many Southern men during the sweltering summer months, though it might be considered gauche to wear one after September. Today, people may still see older gentlemen in the south attired in such suits.
Seersucker isn't limited to the suit fashion trend. It remains a popular fabric for many different types of clothing. Seersucker pants may be popular cruise or vacation wear, and shirts and shorts made of this fabric are popular for both men and women. They are easy care garments, great for taking on trips, and of course providing lightweight, cool covering.
Not wishing to miss out on a good thing, during World War II, Captain Anne A. Lentz designed the summer service uniform for the first female marines using seersucker. Especially in a military setting, even when women were not allowed in combat, having cool, easy to care fabrics was a mark of good sense. Despite providing several generations with comfortable summer clothing, this material is occasionally hard to find.
The weaving process of alternating tight and slack weaves is labor intensive and expensive. Since companies don’t make much of a profit by it, fewer companies produce true seersucker. Sometimes companies cheat by treating fabrics with chemicals to produce the puckering effect. The material is not likely to remain puckered, so if someone is interested in seersucker, he or she should make sure it comes from a true slack-tension weave. It may cost a little more but is likely to wear well.