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The trend-spotting notes in my daily newspaper recently reported that seersucker — a lightweight fabric with a crimped or puckered surface— was the fashionable fabric for the coming summer. This is despite clothes made from it looking as though they had been badly ironed or that the wearer had slept in them. (I am told that the way to give the fabric that crinkled look is to weave together fibres that shrink differently.)

Nick Foulkes wrote in the Sunday Telegraph recently that British wearers intend the seersucker suit to convey “a dashing transatlantic look that is a little bit George Plimpton and a touch F. Scott Fitzgerald”. Or perhaps Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird. For me the seersucker suit evokes a world-weary foreign correspondent in some tropical clime, suffering from heat and excess alcohol.

This is not meant to sound harsh about Jack O’Brine, who just must have been trying to earn twenty bucks a week in a limp seersucker suit, and who has to be long dead, even as his newspaper is long out of business.

Hemingway’s Boat, by Paul Hendrickson, 2011.

Originally, in the eighteenth century, seersucker was striped Indian cotton, the stripes being the identifying feature. You can tell that from the original name, the Persian shir o shakar, literally “milk and sugar”, in reference to what we would now call its candy stripes.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.

Page created 17 Jul 2004; Last updated 17 Apr 2012