By Stephen Wissink
The question raised by my coffee house clique posed a daunting challenge.
How does one become the buzz at a Super Bowl Party, more talked about than the year’s best commercials or the game itself?
To make the challenge even more arduous, there was a ground rule. Being caught in flagrante delicto during the pregame ceremonies doesn’t count. After all, it is considered rude here in the South to feast on a man’s chicken wings after playing bow-chicka-bow-wow with his wife.
So, setting aside the serious issues of the day, I contemplated several ways to upstage that annoying brat whose parents are dumb enough to let an infant plan the family’s investment strategies.
Alas, after many a restless night of rejecting one idea after another, the answer jumped off the TV screen while watching a late-night rerun of the Andy Griffith
show. Barney was getting fancied up for his date with Thelma Lou and donned that grandest garb of Southern fashion, the seersucker suit.
My heart actually skipped a beat at the thought of forgoing jeans and a jersey for a stylin’ seersucker suit better suited for polo matches and the Kentucky Derby.
To be “the buzz” of the party, all I had to do was show up in an old-school suit complete with a pink shirt, a blue bow tie with green stripes, white buck shoes, and an elegant straw hat highlighted with a black and red ribbon.
Best of all, I wouldn’t have to iron. Seersucker is 100 percent double stitched cotton and never stays crisp, so ironing is futile and the rumpled look is part of its charm.
To test my theory, I scoured the web for information and asked several Facebook friends for their thoughts.
Sure enough, seersucker is a sure-fire conversation-starter.
“Nobody doesn’t notice when you’re wearing a seersucker suit,” reporter Ken Burger once wrote for Charleston’s daily paper, the Post & Courier. “[It’s] a statement to the world that you’re a little different and darned proud of it.”
Well that certainly works in my favor. I’m proud of my premature eccentricities and if you need references to that fact, just ask. I have a few in writing.
But back to the subject at hand. For a simple piece of cloth, seersucker certainly evokes strong reactions.
For example, my pal Tom, who works at a university in Michigan, says seersucker seems “foreign.”
Only one person I have known in the last several years has worn seersucker,” he says, “and he’s an old guy from Texas who might say something like, ‘What we have heah is a failure to communicate.’”
My long-time pal Joanne, a respected attorney in both New York and Fort Lauderdale, adds: “I would not wear it, and I don’t think I’d be too keen on any of my men wearing it.”
I turned to my former colleague Dawn, a southern native who now works for a nationwide newspaper based in New York City. She’s a fan of seersucker but offered this counsel when I asked whether such Southern garb can be worn in the land of city slickers and sophisticates. “If you’re coming here, don’t. That’s my best advice!”
And that comes from a woman who notes her husband “charmed her” when he wore a seersucker suit while they dated.
Still, some people have a quaint fondness for seersucker. A quick search of the web shows the puckered fabric is used for dresses, shirts, ties, bikinis, travel bags, hats, shorts, skirts, capris, robes and certain delicates worn by ladies who favor both comfort and style.
My friend Karen, an educator in North Carolina, “likes everything” about her pink seersucker jacket. Stephanie, a supermarket CEO in Ohio, says “it’s quite preppy” and Leslie, a firefighter in Connecticut, “loves it on young kids.” Laura, a marketing professional for a San Francisco TV station, says it “makes me think of little boys at a beach wedding.”
“I find myself smiling whenever I see someone in seersucker,” she says. “It always seems so sweet and evokes a ‘time gone by.’”
Great. There are strong opinions on both sides, which is sure to spark discussion and debate.
Much to her surprise, my friend Terri Bridgewater, discovered during our conversation that she’s a bit of a “seersucker connoisseur.”
Her advice: Always make sure the attire is clean, tailored for the perfect fit and limited to the traditional blue with white pinstripes. Women should only wear one piece at a time, such as a blazer or jacket. “If the sleeves are too long or the fit isn’t just right, hit the gong and No Go,” she says.
“Very few people can wear it well and most of those who do are men,” Terri says. “[Acclaimed musician] David Byrne definitely pulls off the seersucker look and I think Andy Griffith did a pretty good job with it too.”
Her advice on who shouldn’t wear it? Those with weight issues, bad complexion, dirty hair, or favor the grunge look, ala Kurt Cobain.
“If you’re sort of greasy, somehow seersucker just highlights it,” she says. “You might as well be wearing a sign around your neck that says “Dirty.”
With all that to be considered, I do believe I can achieve the challenge first raised at the coffee shop. Seersucker makes for much more compelling conversation than a commercial starring a bikini-clad blonde beauty who abandons a lifeguard for an astronaut just because he wears the perfect deodorant.
Ok, it may be tough to outshine the blonde in the bikini, the lifeguard with the chiseled body, or the dude who’s been to outer space.
Even so, the idea of eating wings and chips while dressed to the nines has a certain appeal.
As a columnist for GQ once advised: “I always aim to overdress rather than underdress. It looks like I have someplace better to go later.”
– OUTTAKES –
Here are a few final quotes (with a bonus scene from the Simpsons) on seersucker.
“From this Northerner’s point of view, it’s fine for selling ice cream but crazy out-of-date nowadays. On a certain kind of elegant old dude, however – white beard required – I like it.” – Syndicated cartoonist and political commentator Ted Rall.
“I’d say that like a skinny jean, it only looks good on the right people. In this case, middle-aged to older men, only in the South, and preferably in the few weeks surrounding Easter.” – Megan B., a friend from my days working at a daily newspaper in Fort Lauderdale; she now lives in California.
“Textiles are not my specialty, but I do have a table cloth made of seersucker. It works well because it doesn’t need ironing and I don’t own an iron.” – Peter C., a Facebook friend in Australia, who’s obviously single.
“These days, I could see seersucker shorts on the golf course … but only in New England and only on a WASP. I do bet they are cool on a humid August day, something I dream about a lot up here in Maine in February. – John C., my favorite editor of all time.
“Having come from the North where seersucker is only for preschoolers’ dresses, I was in total shock that the gentleman wore such a thing.” – Anne M., a Facebook buddy who came to North Carolina to study law.
“There is perhaps one occasion a year upon which I would wear it – Halloween.” – Scott A., another newspaper buddy and online pioneer, who now lives in Chicago.
“Quite honestly, there’s just something about wearing seersucker that makes you feel like you’re starring in a James Dickey novel and talking to Mark Twain while having a drink with William Faulkner.” – The Post & Courier’s Ken Burger. Ah, Ken’s observation is my favorite.
Lastly, the final words come from an episode of the“Simpsons” where Marge tries to sweet talk the family out of trouble while traveling in the South.
Marge: “My goodness, what a lovely suit, sheriff. Is that seersucker?”
Officer: “Nah, not on a civil servant’s salary. It’s neersucker.”
Marge: “Well, the fabric really brings out the red in your neck.”
Once again, Ouch!
Originally published on March 2, 2013