Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Seersucker Most Certainly Does Not Suck

After all, what else should I wear in the summer when I have been asked to join in a croquet match? Daisy Dukes and a tube top? If you answered "Yes," you should ask yourself how you would set up that croquet pitch around that wheelless Ford F10 and off-brown couch in your yard, and then you should promptly leave this page to explore NASCAR scores or something like that. But I digress. 
Just to set the mood
I have always had a bit of a fixation on seersucker, perhaps because of the way it evokes summertime whimsy or perhaps because it demands that you top it off with a straw boater and we all already know how I feel about straw boaters. Indeed, my gentle readerfolk, I have been meaning to address this vunderfabrik for quite a while, but I have been trepidatious about my ability to do it justice. However, a few recent cultural twists have made me feel that time is ripe. I must warn you that I had initially written a very curmudgeony intro for this, but I decided that nothing would be served by picking on those 20-somethings who think it's cool to have Gatsby parties so I softened it in the end. (Indeed, I was hyper-critical of the recent film, I haven't even seen it yet. Maybe when it is on TV. Historically speaking, 3D is ridiculous for that sort of movie. We all know for a fact not only was the world in 2D back then, it was in black and white as well.) The recent fixation on that time period has also prompted a number of retail outlets to launch lines of seersucker and pincord, which is a welcome change over "relaxed fit" anything. 

Gee, I wish my fronts weren't so full… 
they sure ruin the line of your beads
We do have to bear in mind that dressing for the twenties does involve a certain amount care to keep those styles neat and properly fitted. I certainly want this blog to be a place to build up, not to tear down. (Yeah, I  know, I am not completely above making the snarky comment here and there, but I really do try to keep those to a minimum.) 


Perhaps I will hang on to my vitriolic tirade to remind me NOT to descend into that very dark place. That being said, there is probably no better place to start than with a brief history of seersucker and the related-but-not-the-same pincord.

Yeah, this is Renoir’s Luncheon
of the Boating Party and is neither British
nor Colonial nor Indian, but you get the point

Historically, the name seersucker is a rough transliteration of the Persian compound shīroshakar by way of the Hindi sīrsakar meaning "milk and sugar," which I find poetically evocative. The texture of the raised stripes functions as a heat sink, dissipating body heat much more effectively in warmer climates, and was favored by those British colonial types. You get the thermodynamics: more surface area means more air exposure hence more heat transference. Clever, no? Somehow, when seersucker made its way stateside it became a fabric of the poor (because only the poor would be out in the heat and wealthy are specifically bred not to sweat.) In the 20s it became a subversive trend among wealthy college kids to wear it. See how it all ties back to those crazy kids in Gatsby?

Heatsink...seersucker...get it? That is what we call applied science.

Lest we forget, seersucker has a sister fabric less delightfully named pincord. For simplicity's sake let's just say it is a 16+ wale corduroy version of seersucker. The striping is more subtle but the cooling effect is similar. I do prefer the bolder statement of seersucker and also feel that there is something more classic about it. That's just me, but it is my blog so there.

Pincord is really just like a seersucker reduction. You culinary types know what I am talking about.

The accompanying straw boater (AKA "skimmer") has a somewhat similar modern history: in the late 1800s it was favored by the working class because it was lightweight and naturally ventilated, therefore perfect outdoors in warm weather. By the 20s, it was adopted by the younger, well-moneyed set. Those were more civilized times, when a gentleman walking outside without a hat on was on par with an escaped circus baboon.

The suspect is hatless, I repeat, hatless.

By today’s standards, that hatless man might be walking naked, urinating on children, or smoking bathsalts in Florida. 

As an added point of interest, Straw Hat Day is the day when men officially switch from their winter beaver to their boaters, but the actual date is completely arbitrary and varies based on geographic location. Check your local almanac or Pennysaver Newspaper for your exact date. Here in NYC it is May 15th, and September 15th is Felt Hat Day (the obvious inverse.)

Here is another bit of fun Wikipedia trivia (so take it with a grain of bathsalt) about Felt Hat Day: If someone was seen wearing a straw hat [after Felt Hat Day], they were, at minimum, subjecting themselves to ridicule, and it was a tradition for youths to knock straw hats off of wearers' heads and stomp on them. This led to the Straw Hat Riot of 1922, and I highly suggest you read up on it, before you pshaw the Rules of Fashion and the consequences for ignoring them.

On a personal note: images
like these had a profound effect on me during my formative years. My version of Venus in Furs? Maybe.

I think that has painted a complete contextual picture and this is how it all comes together in my daily summertime life.


And that is what I call one sticky wicket!

Sky blue and charcoal grey may be the most common colors for seersucker and pincord, but I have that special penchant for whimsical pink. The vest is the same wale pincord as the jacket, but in contrasting blueish grey. It's always good to switch up hues when a single pattern dominates. The boater is a very special eBay find—special in that I have a teeny tiny noggin, so I assume it belonged to a child or a circus pinhead. It's ok when we call each other that.

The blue is much more nautical. don't you think?
This is a new skimmer: note the wide brim...it feels very Venetian.

For the sake of variation on this same outfit, I have the shorts in the same blue-grey as the vest and the jacket in grey pincord. I can wear some form of this every day for a week. The secret is having a selection of socks and ties to keep it all exciting. It goes without saying that you should make sure that your ball matches your tie and your icecubes match your shorts.

And just to let you know, I do have the actual seersucker suit to back up all this jibbibilish. Of course I bought it with two pairs of trousers, so I could have one altered to create a pair of schoolboy shortpants. The best way to dress for an office environment AND get away with shorts is the three-piece suit. The jacket and vest lets you show off those sultry summertime gams without looking like a floozy. That crispness of clean, well-pressed seersucker will always leave an impression of complete composure. 

One final outfit to leave you with: my casual shorts. This particular pair was actually my white whale for an entire month one summer. I saw them in the window of (gasp) American Apparel on Bleecker Street. They were the perfect pink however, they did NOT have my size, and that set me off on an Odyssey that led me through each and every branch of that store from Grand Street far uptown. Each store had them but every sales girl and boy insisted that they did not come in pink at all. Luckily, my Jewish heritage has left me well prepared for wandering quests. FInally, huzzah! I found a single pair of them. To celebrate, I carried them triumphantly into the closest bar to buy them a beer...incidentally, it was the Eagle. (If you don't know anything about it, see what you can find under Missed Connections on Craigslist. You may not want to go there with your mom.) This is my Sunday at the Victorian seashore outfit.

I know this was an uncharacteristically disjointed piece, so if you have gotten this far, I congratulate you. Your takeaway should be that seersucker will keep you cool as a cucumber in the summer while ensuring you LOOK like you don't stink (so if you do, everyone will assume it is the person next to you.) The straw boater is the essential topper to that warm weather outfit to pull it all together.

Coming soon: underpants and why come you will never, ever, ever look like the guy on the package.

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