Milk and Sugar INT

Page 1

Milk and Sugar The Complete Book of Seersucker

Bill Haltom


Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker Š copyright, 2015, Bill Haltom. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without the express, written consent of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information contact Nautilus Publishing, 426 South Lamar Blvd., Suite 16, Oxford, MS 38655.

ISBN: 978-1-936946-69-3 The Nautilus Publishing Company 426 South Lamar Blvd., Suite 16 Oxford, Mississippi 38655 Tel: 662-513-0159

First Edition Front cover design by Paul Mitchell. Interior design by Wil Oakes. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data has been applied for. Printed in the United States of America. 10










“Seersucker is a whole feeling and attitude … being fun, being comfortable in your clothes, not being taken too seriously … always looking put together … always looking effortless. Just put it on and you will look good in that suit … You are who you are, but wearing that suit makes your attitude come out.” Laurie Haspel Aronson

“I’ve been wearing coats of the material known as seersucker around New York lately, thereby causing much confusion among my friends … They cannot decide whether I’m broke or just setting a new vogue.” Damon Runyon The New York Journal American, 1945

For my La Baguette brothers

contents Prologue A Big Splash.....................................................................6 Chapter 1 A Brief History Of Seersucker........................................11 Chapter 2 Classic Seersucker...........................................................29 Chapter 3 Seersucker From Top To Bottom....................................43 Chapter 4 The Feminine Look........................................................53 Chapter 5 Seriously Seersucker.......................................................63 Chapter 6 A New Generation For Seersucker..................................73 Chapter 7 To Everything There Is A Season....................................87 Chapter 8 The Casual Seersucker Day.............................................97

Chapter 9 Seersucker Celebrations ...............................................105 Chapter 10 Faith, Hope And Seersucker.........................................117 Chapter 11 Seersucker In Hollywood..............................................127 Chapter 12 The Perfect Law Suit.....................................................137 Chapter 13 The Wide World Of Seersucker In Sports.....................145 Chapter 14 Seersucker In Washington............................................159 Chapter 15 National Seersucker Day..............................................173 Chapter 16 The Future Of Seersucker.............................................181 Conclusion Why Seersucker Matters...............................................191


a big splash One hot summer day Joseph Haspel, a New Orleans clothier and master tailor, was attending a trade show in Boca Raton, Florida. He decided to cool off by taking a swim in the ocean. And so he left the room of his beachfront hotel, made his way through the crowd of sunbathers, and dove into the ocean wearing his favorite suit. Not a swimsuit, but rather a full cotton suit ... the cotton jacket, the trousers, a shirt, tie and shoes ‌ He plunged into the Atlantic wearing the entire ensemble. After splashing fully clothed in the waves for several min-

6 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

utes, he emerged on the shore and calmly began to march back to his hotel as a large crowd of gawking sunbathers stared in amazement. He stopped briefly to make an announcement: “This suit will be dry in 15 minutes and ready to wear again without cleaning or pressing.� The damp but cool Haspel then returned to his hotel room and hung his saltwater-soaked suit to dry. That evening, Haspel wore the suit to the trade show din-

Bill Haltom | 7

ner looking dapper as always. It wasn’t just any suit. It was a oneof-a-kind suit Haspel had invented … a seersucker suit. Haspel’s seersucker-clad swim was a publicity stunt, and it worked. It made a big splash at the Boca Raton trade show, and soon everyone was talking about this Henry Ford of fashion, this Thomas Edison of fabric, and his light-weight cotton suit that was ready for a dinner party shortly after a dip in the Atlantic Ocean. It was the ultimate wash and wear suit.

8 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

Joseph Haspel emerging from the ocean in Boca Raton.

Bill Haltom | 9

a brief history of seersucker

n 1909, New Orleans was, like most southern cities, a tropical climate. From May to October the city was enveloped in heat and humidity. Years later it was said that in the American South, the three necessities are food, clothing, and air conditioning. But there was no air conditioning to be found in New Orleans in the early 20th century, nor could it be found in Atlanta or Charleston or Memphis or Nashville. Even as far north as Washington, D.C., diplomats and staffers in the British Embassy received hardship pay since the British Foreign Office officially classified Washington as a “sub-tropical climate.� Office buildings and courthouses throughout the South would close from the 4th of July through Labor Day as rich folks

Bill Haltom | 13

would board trains to head to summer homes in Michigan. The rest of the citizenry would sweat it out, spending hot summer nights trying to sleep in screened “sleeping porches” and long humid days sitting under awnings, waiting for October. It wasn’t until 1925 that the Krauss Department Store on Canal Street became the first major building in New Orleans that was air conditioned. By the 1930s, Atlanta, Birmingham and Memphis had a few majestic downtown theaters that advertised themselves as “refrigerated.” People flocked to the “picture show” not so much to be entertained as to simply cool off. But despite the heat, America in the early 20th century was a nation where people of all classes believed in dressing up. Men seldom went outdoors without wearing a hat and promptly removed those hats when they came indoors. Men of all socioeconomic classes wore suits, and women wore dresses, not just on Sundays, but every day of the week. The suits and dresses were made of heavy wool, providing maximum discomfort particularly during the summer months. But there was a wonderful lightweight, incredibly resilient cloth that was just waiting to be tailor-made into elegant and comfortable suits and dresses. It was called “seersucker,” and it

14 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

had been first imported to America from the British Colonial East Indies in the 19th century. By the early 20th century, it was already being put to great practical use in the manufacturing of overalls worn by laborers in factories, particularly in the hot and humid south. New Orleans clothier and tailor Joseph Haspel made a living using seersucker to manufacture sturdy work clothes for factory workers, farmers and even prisoners. Seersucker was truly the fabric of the poor. And then Joseph Haspel had an epiphany. He took that puckered cotton fabric and tailored it into a suit designed for Louisiana’s blazing summer heat. The name “seersucker” is derived from the Persian words “sheer” and “shakkar,” meaning milk and sugar. And in Joseph Haspel’s hands, it was appropriately named, as seersucker is a wonderful combination of puckered fabric. The very nature of seersucker made it not only lightweight, but its combination of both a smooth and bumpy texture (milk and sugar!) caused the fabric to lift away from the skin when it was worn. It was a cool suit, both literally and figuratively. New York fashion designer Sam Shipley compares Haspel’s

Bill Haltom | 15

The Duke of Windsor wears a smart seersucker suit as he leaves the Italian Riviera on the way to Montecatini in 1949. credit: Keystone

innovation to the invention of the Nike Air Max shoe nearly a century later. “Seersucker changed tailoring the way the Air Max changed footwear,” explains Shipley. The seersucker suit soon became the fashion favorite of southern businessmen and lawyers (in southern courthouses, it was called “the perfect law suit”). By the 1920s, its fame had spread to cooler climates in the north. In New York City, a seersucker line was soon marketed by Brooks Brothers. The seersucker look was discovered by the Great Gatsby crowd, as undergraduate gentlemen at Princeton began to wear it as a sort of reverse snobbery, donning the formerly working-class fabric as their own, and it soon spread to other Ivy League and

16 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

prep schools across the northeastern United States. By the 1930s, Haspel was advertising its “Refreshable Suits” in full page ads in the Times-Picayune and proudly proclaiming the Crescent City as “the wash suit capital of America.” Joseph Haspel was an ambassador for both seersucker suits and his hometown of New Orleans, boasting that 80 percent of the men’s wash suits in the country were being made in New Orleans for a locally produced annual total of one-half million suits. America remained an un-air conditioned nation through the Roaring 20s, the Depression, and World War II, and Haspel’s “Refreshable Suits” were enormously popular. They were not only cool and comfortable, but also easily cleaned, easily packed, and easily maintained. By the decade of the 1940s, seersucker suits were being worn by politicians in Washington, including FDR and Harry Truman. During World War II, seersucker received an endorsement from the Duke of Windsor. The Duke was ordered to the Bahamas, where he fell in love with seersucker suits. The photos of the famed clotheshorse donning seersucker increased the popularity of the suits on both sides of the Atlantic.

18 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

And then in 1962, Hollywood produced a seersucker icon in the persona of Gregory Peck in his memorable, Oscar-winning performance as Atticus Finch in the film To Kill A Mockingbird. In a hot Alabama courtroom, Peck, as Finch, wore a three piece seersucker suit as he defended an innocent man, field hand Tom Robinson. Peck’s suit was personally fitted for him by Haspel of New Orleans. By the mid-1960s, seersucker was an integral part not only of American fashion but of pop culture as well. In their 1965 album, Out of Our Heads, the Rolling Stones sang about the wonderful combination of “a Corvette and a seersucker suit.” A few years later, The Who added their own musical tribute to seersucker in their song, “I’ve Had Enough.” But the second half of the 20th century brought the advent of modern air conditioning and a corresponding decline in sartorial standards, and seersucker went on the endangered fabric list. By the 1970s, synthetic fabrics were pushing cotton and other natural fibers out of the clothing market. Cotton farmers in the south took a beating, and men’s fashion went into a tailspin. Synthetic fabrics were supposed to give men’s clothing a new look that was sleek and wrinkle-free. Instead, the new look

Bill Haltom | 19

turned out to be shiny and slippery. Businessmen were wearing dark so-called “tropical weight suits” year round. David Ignatius of the Washington Post referred to that era as “a permanent sartorial winter.” It was probably best (or worst) exemplified by the sad images of President Richard Nixon walking on the beach at San Clemente wearing a dark wool-blend suit and wing tip shoes. Had he only been wearing seersucker, he could have jumped into the Pacific Ocean. And then men’s fashion hit rock bottom with a wardrobe abomination, the polyester leisure suit. By the closing years of the 20th century, folks pretty much threw in the fashion towel with the rise of “casual days” in corporate headquarters, banks, law firms, and white-collar businesses throughout the nation. The prevailing wisdom was there was no need to dress up anymore for either work or play. People started showing up for work wearing khakis and golf shirts. At least the polyester leisure suit mercifully went away. And then came a new century, a new millennium, and a reawakening of sensible fashion thought. And suddenly the iconic seersucker suit was being worn not only by lawyers, businessmen and businesswomen, but by

20 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

hip-hop artists, athletes, and movie stars, including Jay Z, Kanye West, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Jon Hamm of the hit TV series “Mad Men,” inspiring a nostalgic, retro look. And not coincidently, the First Family of Seersucker suits, the Haspels of New Orleans, made a comeback. The Haspel family had sold the company in 1977, and then watched over the years as the company changed hands several times as numerous businesses acquired the Haspel label. One of the members of the Haspel family who watched this with sadness was Laurie Haspel Aronson, the great-granddaughter of Joseph Haspel. Laurie had spent many happy hours of her childhood running through the New Orleans factory on St. Bernard Avenue at Broad Street where the Haspel suits were created. She had warm memories of the company her great-grandfather had started and her grandfather and father had sustained. There were still suits out there with the Haspel label, but in Laurie’s eyes, “the brand had been diluted and didn’t have the snazz it did in its heyday.” Slowly but surely, the Haspel family reacquired the business, beginning first by purchasing the labels in the mid-1990s, and licensing the brand. By 2012, the Haspel family was no longer licensing the

Bill Haltom | 21

Laurie Haspel Aronson, great-granddaughter of seersucker inventor Joseph Haspel, serves as president and CEO of Haspel.

brand. The Haspel brand was back in the family, as they returned to the design, distribution and production of the line, with Laurie Haspel Aronson as Haspel President. Laurie Aronson did not dive into Lake Ponchartrain wearing a seersucker dress, but she was following in her great-grandfather’s footsteps. The new and recharged Haspel Company teamed with Shipley and Halmos, a New York based design firm, that began creating a new line of Haspel seersucker suits and sportswear. And then in 2014, the United States Congress, in a rare bipartisan move, declared National Seersucker Day, encouraging a nationwide day of celebration of the iconic puckered fabric. More than a century after its invention, the seersucker suit

22 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

was more popular than ever. It is worn by lawyers in rural southern courthouses and bankers in urban skyscrapers. It is worn on Wall Street in New York and on King Street in Charleston. It is worn on formal occasions and fun occasions, at elegant dinner parties and backyard barbeques. It is worn in churches on Easter Sunday and at weddings. It is worn by coffee-sipping business leaders at corporate meetings and by mint-julip drinking spectators at the Kentucky Derby. You can even see revelers in purple-and-white seersucker outfits in the French Quarter during Mardi Gras. Seersucker is a wonderful combination of both the elegant and the casual. And it isn’t just worn by millions of well-dressed Americans. It is celebrated for its comfort, its distinctive appearance, and how it makes folks look and feel. It is literally cool.

24 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

Bill Haltom | 25

26 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

A model recreating Joseph Haspel’s famous dip in the ocean. Credit: Haspel

Bill Haltom | 27

classic seersucker

prezzatura. It is an Italian word dating back to the Renaissance, and it means a style of nonchalance … a purposeful and studied nonchalance … a casual elegance that appears effortless. G. Bruce Boyer, the long-time fashion editor for Esquire, GQ, and Town & Country, believes sprezzatura is the essence of a well-dressed gentlemen. In his classic sartorial treatise, Eminently Suitable, Boyer contends that sprezzatura is a “gentle pretense, the subtle art which hides the effort.” It’s like hearing Tony Bennett or Frank Sinatra or Ella Fitzgerald sing or watching Fred Astaire dancing in his classic films. It appears graceful and effortless and oh so elegant, but the elegance is the product of planning and design. And Boyer believes that sprezzatura is exemplified in the

Bill Haltom | 31

32 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

1950 photo of American actor James Stewart wearing a seersucker suit. Credit: Hulton Archive

classic seersucker look. “There’s something so wonderfully, purposefully nonchalant about seersucker,” explains Boyer. Boyer believes that the apparent imperfection of seersucker – the wrinkles – are at the heart of its beauty and style. “We’ve all been deceived into believing we can achieve a certain perfection, and the synthetic fabric people have tried to convince us that we should all strive to be completely wrinkle-free,” says Boyer. “It’s such a crazy goal because of course you can’t achieve it unless you wear clothes made out of aluminum or something like that. You couldn’t possibly achieve a wrinkle-free look, and seersucker is the antidote to this kind of thinking. It shows you can have the wrinkles, you can have the comfort, and you can

Bill Haltom | 33

have the style. In fact they’re all interrelated.” The noted Atlanta menswear designer Sid Mashburn agrees with Boyer that the wrinkled, rumpled look is what makes seersucker simultaneously elegant, comfortable and practical. “The coolest thing about seersucker to me,” explains Mashburn, “is that it’s probably the most natural performance fabric out there. The fabric is breathable and free … it’s always wrinkled, and yet it never wrinkles. That’s part of its allure. It’s also the way the air circulates when you wear it which lends itself to be a perfect warm weather fabric.” For Bruce Boyer, the virtue of wonderful summer clothes like seersucker and linen is that “they were constructed in a very unconstructed way so that people would wear them, and wash them and hang them up to dry out, and the more they wrinkled and softened and conformed to your body, the more they became a part of you and said something about you that was very genuine and very good.” Boyer believes a gentleman in a seersucker suit with a nice white button-down shirt and a bow tie or striped tie and a straw hat and white bucks conveys his own wonderfully imperfect signature style and look. He looks confident and comfortable and appears to be effortlessly elegant. “The style of studied noncha-

34 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

lance,” says Boyer, “is the triumph of grace over order.” Jim Hunter of the wonderful Hunter & Coggins Store in Asheville, North Carolina believes the classic seersucker man is a true gentleman. “He knows to take his hat off when he comes inside and to open a door for a lady. It is part of his heritage and style,” explains Hunter. Hunter also believes that wearing a seersucker suit “sets a man apart from the run-of-the-mill type of guy. When a gentleman walks down a busy city sidewalk in a seersucker suit he’s going to get noticed. He’s going to get smiles and compliments.” Bob Levy of Oak Hall in Memphis believes the classic seersucker gentleman remembers and appreciates history. “It is a classic look that has lasted for decades, and the seersucker-wearing gentleman is carrying on a fashion tradition,” explains Levy. Bob Levy knows and appreciates fashion history and tradition, as he and his brother, Bill, own the store founded by their great-grandfather in 1859. Among the luminaries their store has sold seersucker suits to over the years was one William Faulkner. Dr. Andre Churchwell in Nashville is one of America’s foremost cardiologists. A graduate of Harvard Medical School, Dr. Churchwell is a professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University and a nationally-renowned leader in the field of biomedical

Bill Haltom | 35

engineering. And he is one sharp dresser. In his classic seersucker suits, he personifies sprezzatura, gentility and tradition. Growing up in Nashville, Dr. Churchwell had several fashion role models. The first was his father, Robert Churchwell. He was the first African American writer for a major southern newspaper, joining the staff of the Nashville Banner in 1947. While a journalist, he used a lawyer’s phrase for the importance of being well-dressed. “It’s your opening statement to people,” Mr. Churchwell told young Andre and his brothers. Dr. Churchwell’s other fashion role models were movie stars such as Gary Cooper and Cary Grant. They conveyed an elegant iconic style. Dr. Churchwell has tried to emulate his father and the classic movie stars, but with his own signature style, and in the summertime that style is classic seersucker or linen. Dr. Churchwell is a firm believer that his sartorial seersucker style is important to him in his work as a physician. “An elegant style such as a classic seersucker suit,” he says, “allows me to share a unique part of myself and to develop a personal connection with my patients. It helps immensely.” No doubt about it, that is a classic seersucker bedside

36 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

manner. In Charleston, attorney Thomas Tisdale makes his own seersucker opening statement on summer days in his work as a business litigator. Mr. Tisdale is the quintessential Southern gentleman. He has served as president of the South Carolina Bar Association and president of the South Carolina Historical Society. He buys his seersucker suits from the Ben Silver Store, one of the world’s preeminent men’s clothing stores found on King Street in Charleston and Savile Row in London. Bob Prenner, the managing director of the Ben Silver Company, regards Tom Tisdale as the classic seersucker-wearing gentleman. He has even featured Mr. Tisdale as a model in Ben Silver catalogs. As a South Carolina historian, Mr. Tisdale loves the traditional, Old South look of seersucker. Like Dr. Andre Churchwell, Mr. Tisdale’s original fashion model was his father, who was an Episcopal priest. “My father told me that you wear your best clothes not only when you go to church, but every day, because you always want to reflect that you are on important business,” recalls Mr. Tisdale. Counselor Tisdale makes the case for seersucker for both

Bill Haltom | 37

its practicality and its look. “There’s really no other suit to wear than seersucker on a hot, humid summer day in Charleston,” says Tisdale. And Mr. Tisdale confirms Bruce Boyer and Sid Mashburn’s thoughts on the importance of the wrinkled, rumpled look of seersucker. “It is guaranteed to wrinkle!” he says, laughing. “It’s so easy to maintain. It never needs ironing because it is supposed to look wrinkled!” Tisdale recalls the time when he encountered another seersucker-wearing gentleman in front of the Brooks Brothers store in downtown Charleston. “We both had on our seersucker suits,” recalls Tisdale, “and he congratulated me on mine because mine was more rumpled than his! He told me I looked like I had been sleeping in mine. It looked like a nice pair of pajamas! He meant it as a compliment, and I took it as one!” Mr. Tisdale understands the essence of seersucker’s nonchalant, imperfect elegance. It is indeed wrinkle chic! In New Orleans, real estate developer, civil leader, and philanthropist Roger Ogden is the nation’s foremost expert on Southern art. His collection of more than 4,000 works includes paintings, water colors, drawings, prints, photographs, sculpture, and ceramics that preserve the heritage and history of the

38 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

South. The collection is found in New Orleans’ Ogden Museum of Southern Art, and is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institute. And Ogden makes his own artistic statement in his classic seersucker suits. Roger Ogden bought his first seersucker suit, a Haspel, in 1972, shortly after his graduation from Tulane Law School. “A seersucker suit was de riguer for New Orleans attorneys then, and now,” recalls Ogden. “I would see all these attorneys wearing seersucker, and I was just out of law school and probably had just one suit, and I wanted a seersucker so I would look like my role models in the legal profession. I asked one boss and mentor, Harry Kelleher, the managing partner of my firm, where I could go buy a seersucker suit. He said, ‘I’ll call my friend Henry Sarpy over at Terry & Juden on Carondolet, and he’ll fit you for one!’ And so I tromped over there at lunch one day and got my first seersucker suit, and Henry and his wife would become my life-long friends.” A year later, Roger Ogden left his promising legal career to follow his dream of being an entrepreneur, but he took that seersucker suit with him. Over the next 40 years, Ogden made his own signature print on the city of New Orleans and the State of Louisiana as a

Bill Haltom | 39

developer, visionary civic leader and art collector. His development projects over the years have included the Wyndham Riverfront Hotel that pioneered development on Convention Center Boulevard in downtown New Orleans, the Lowe’s New Orleans Hotel on Poydras Street, the restoration of the Plaza D’Italia and The Shops at Canal Place. In 2003, he opened the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans, from his thousands of works – a collection he began when he was an undergraduate at LSU in the late 1960s when he presented a painting to his mother as a birthday gift. It was a Louisiana landscape painting by the early 20th century tonalist Alexander Drysdale. And he still wears seersucker, just as he did as a young lawyer in New Orleans over 40 years ago. Roger Ogden doesn’t just wear seersucker; he celebrates it at the annual Sippin’ in Seersucker Soiree, a fundraiser for the Ogden Museum. For Roger Ogden, Sippin’ in Seersucker brings together his love of southern art, music, food and fashion. “It’s all about bringing the South to the attention of the nation,” he explains. “Whether it is Elvis or Faulkner, or our food, our literature, our music, or something as authentically southern such as seersucker, we celebrate.”

40 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

Roger Ogden leads the sippers in celebrating with great food, New Orleans jazz and a seersucker fashion show. Roger Ogden’s seersucker suits are representative of the exemplary style of this entrepreneur and developer who has literally changed the landscape of the city of New Orleans and the State of Louisiana. Andre Churchwell, Tom Tisdale, and Roger Ogden personify the classic seersucker look, sprezzatura, a nonchalant elegance that appears effortless. But don’t be misled. It is by design a signature seersucker opening statement made by the well-dressed gentleman, and it never fails to impress.

Bill Haltom | 41

seersucker from top to bottom

he classic seersucker look is not confined to a puckered cotton jacket and matching trousers. In fact, the look begins a foot or so above the jacket’s collar and extends below the trousers’ cuffs. The quintessential seersucker gentleman wears a seersucker ensemble from top to bottom, with accessories that match and complement the iconic fabric. The classic seersucker look is topped off, literally, with a straw hat, preferably one with a brightly-colored ribbon. Sadly, in recent times, men’s hats have appeared to go out of style. But here’s an important fact about the classic seersucker gentleman: He doesn’t care what is in style, but rather he sets his own style.

Bill Haltom | 45

And that style often begins with a summer hat made of straw. The most formal hat for seersucker wear is the boater, a summer hat that became popular in the late 19th and early 20th century by gentlemen who were enjoying boating or sailing. While it is commonly associated with barber shop quartets, it is also the hatwear of choice of band members at America’s elite universities, including Princeton, Stanford and Cal-Berkeley. This has given a whole new meaning to the term “hat bands.” Long adorned by undergraduate scholars at Oxford and Cambridge, the boater crossed the Atlantic over a century ago and to this day it is the hat of choice for the old school seersucker gentleman. For a less formal but still elegant look, a gentleman can opt for the straw fedora or Panama hat. The seersucker gentleman who is fit to be tied can opt for the bow tie, for its traditional look, or the classic necktie. In either case, the tie should be bold and colorful. R. Hanauer Bow Ties in Fort Mill, South Carolina produces a line of seersucker bow ties as well as colorful silk ties

46 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

and even seersucker pocket squares. Randy Hanauer started the company in 1985 solely to produce stylish white cotton pocket squares but soon began supplementing the line with colorful squares in madras and seersucker and, ultimately, the R. Hanauer signature item, bow ties. “We were in the bow tie business before bow ties were cool,” explains Hanauer. “And then young people got on it and really, really drove it up. Bow ties are particularly popular with the younger seersucker-wearing gentlemen. The combination of a seersucker tie with a seersucker suit and an Oxford cloth button-down collared cotton shirt is a true cotton fabric celebration.” In Raleigh, North Carolina, High Cotton Ties produces a similar line of seersucker bow ties. High Cotton Ties was started by Judy Hill on her kitchen table when she made a cotton bow tie for her son who was at the University of Virginia Medical School. The tie was so popular with her son’s classmates and resident physicians at the medical school that she started making more and, before she knew it, she and her son James (younger brother of the Virginia doctor) had a booming business and now carry the High Cotton bow tie line in some 300 men’s stores across the country. There’s an old joke that goes, “Why do firemen wear red

Bill Haltom | 47

Sid Mashburn, proprietor of stores in Atlanta, Houston, Washington, D.C., and Dallas.

suspenders? ‌ To keep their trousers up!� Obviously, the classic seersucker gentleman will wear a belt or suspenders (known by old-schoolers as braces) for the simple reason to keep their cotton trousers up. Like the tie wear, the belts or suspenders should again be bold and colorful, often matching the ribbon on the straw boater. And finally, we get to the bottom of the classic seersucker look: the shoes and socks. The classic seersucker footwear is a pair of white bucks. Seersuckers purists insist that white bucks are the only appropriate shoes for a seersucker suit. But bolder seersucker lovers like to wear the spectator

48 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

Bill Haltom | 49

shoe, a British type shoe featuring two contrasting colors, generally either black and white or brown and white. Spectator lovers believe the two-tone shoes are the perfect complement to the traditional blue and white, grey and white, or tan and white striped seersucker suits. The traditional approach for socks is to match their color to either colored stripe in the suit. Again, the more colorful and bolder the better. And there are even a few advocates of going “sockless” in traditional white bucks or spectators. Sid Mashburn prefers bare feet in his white bucks and insists that if one must wear socks with their seersucker and white bucks, “they need to be a cream color.” For the record, Sid, who has fabulous clothing stores in Atlanta, Houston, and the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C., prefers to go sans socks no matter what type of suit he is wearing. “I wear socks about four days a year,” explains Sid. Josh Hill of the Ralph Lauren Store on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach agrees with Sid and says that young men wearing seersucker should definitely go sockless with loafers for a more casual but still elegant look. The bottom line, and the top line for that matter, is that

50 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

there are no definite rules when it comes to seersucker accessories for the classic look. The classic appearance of the confident seersucker gentleman is his own signature look.

Bill Haltom | 51

the feminine look

he was a southern gal from New Orleans who, after obtaining a degree in apparel design from LSU in 2006, had moved to New York City to make her mark in the fashion industry. Jolie Benson Hamilton landed a job with BCBG, one of the nation’s leading designers of women’s fashion. There she met another southern gal, Sarah Elizabeth Dewey, who, like Jolie, had come to the Big Apple to pursue her designer dreams. Jolie and Elizabeth became best friends, and they were destined to be sisters of seersucker. Growing up in the South, Jolie and Elizabeth had been surrounded by the lightweight, breathable fabric. It was an essential part of the spring and summer wardrobe of

Bill Haltom | 55

A World War II nurse in seersucker.

their fathers, brothers and boyfriends. “I remember Easter Sunday when I was growing up in New Orleans,” Jolie recalls. “My father and grandfather, my uncle, and all the men in my family looked wonderful in church wearing their seersucker suits. But you just didn’t see any women wearing seersucker. I remember seeing a woman wearing a man’s seersucker blazer as a jacket to try to achieve a feminine seersucker look, but my mother, grandmother and I just weren’t given seersucker options.” As Jolie and Elizabeth worked together at BCBG and talked about their memories of seersucker, they both arrived at the same questions: Why was seersucker almost exclusively a male fashion domain? Why were there so few seersucker options

56 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

for women? Jolie and Elizabeth reached the logical conclusion that as more and more women entered the workplace, seersucker with a feminine touch should as well. They also concluded that women should enjoy seersucker not only in the workplace, but with seersucker party dresses and casual attire as well. Jolie and Elizabeth began to talk with their male colleagues at BCBG, suggesting the need for the design of more seersucker dresses. But they got little response. And so Jolie and Elizabeth decided to break the fabric ceiling and design seersucker dresses themselves. After all, who better than two women who were born and raised in the South to take on this wonderful seersucker mission? And so Jolie came home to New Orleans. Elizabeth made the move as well, and they created Jolie & Elizabeth, setting up shop in the Big Easy. They began to design beautiful seersucker dresses, blouses, and even sarongs, naming each of their frocks after Southern women and places. “Each dress carried our history,� explains Elizabeth. Being well-mannered Southern women, Jolie and Elizabeth responded to each online order with a hand-written thank you note. In the process, they

58 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

began to sell beautiful seersucker apparel to women all over the country. But they did even more. These seersucker entrepreneurs began to open doors for young women across the South in the apparel industry. As a highly successful alumna, Jolie was invited to go back to LSU from time to time to give speeches to students in the apparel design program. When she did, Jolie noticed something that disturbed her. “Girls I graduated with were working at the mall, working in retail, and letting their degrees go to waste,” remembers Jolie. “It was heartbreaking.” Jolie and Elizabeth had a vision not only to create their own apparel design company, but also to develop a new fashion industry in the South that would allow young women to pursue their own design dreams. Jolie and Elizabeth created a “Junior Design Challenge Contest,” asking young women at Southern universities to submit designs for a seersucker dress. The winning designs went into production under the Jolie & Elizabeth label, giving a new generation of Southern women a chance to pursue rewarding careers, just as Jolie and Elizabeth have. Jolie & Elizabeth now employ 40 people. Fridays, Jo-

Bill Haltom | 59

lie brings home-baked cookies and brownies for her staff. No doubt about it, with a feminine touch, seersucker is sweet.

60 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

Bill Haltom | 61

seriously seersucker

eersucker is fun. Whenever you see a man in a seersucker suit or a woman in a beautiful seersucker sundress, the odds are overwhelming that man or woman will be smiling. And when you see them, the odds are that you will smile, too. Seersucker is contagiously fun. But in Franklin, Tennessee, there is an extraordinary man who takes his seersucker very seriously. His name is Robert Hicks. It is an understatement to say that Robert Hicks leads a multi-faceted and fascinating life. He is a best-selling author, a Civil War historian, music publisher and executive, and philanthropist. He writes essays for such diverse publications as The New

Bill Haltom | 65

York Times and Garden and Gun. He lectures around the world on history and literature, particularly the history and literature of his native South. He is the “curator of vibe” for the BB King Corporation, leading blues clubs in Nashville, Memphis, Orlando and Los Angeles. He is an art collector (listed among Art & Antiques’ top 100 collectors in America), and he has produced and served as curator for major exhibitions at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville. He is a public-spirited, ubiquitous figure in Nashville, and is known as Music City’s Master of Ceremonies. And he is serious about seersucker. “I wear it every day from Easter to Labor Day,” explains Hicks. “But it’s more than just something I wear. It really is at the center of so much of my life.” For Robert Hicks, seersucker is about tradition and history – his own family history as well as the history of the South. “The reasons seersucker matters to me is because of tradition,” he explains. “My grandfather wore it. My father wore it, and I wear it.” Hicks’ seersucker suits are not just a connection with his own family history. His seersucker suits have the extraordinary

66 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

effect of connecting others to their own family history. “It really is remarkable,” observes Hicks. “I’ll be wearing my seersucker suit and total strangers will walk up to me and start telling me about someone in their family — a father, an uncle, a grandfather — who wore seersucker. Seersucker has this great ability to create a memory for people.” As an historian, Hicks regards this as seersucker’s greatest trait. Robert Hicks also believes that seersucker projects the perfect image for a leader in any walk of life. “Seersucker just has a great crisp, clean look about it,” says Hicks. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone who looks bad in seersucker.” It is indeed the unofficial uniform of Music City’s master of ceremonies. Seersucker is also the fashion foundation of Robert Hicks’ renowned philanthropic efforts. Over the years, he has raised millions of dollars in support of the arts, historical preservation and education. And Robert Hicks knows how to use seersucker to make such efforts successful. Each year in August, Robert Hicks hosts a very serious philanthropic event in Franklin, Tennessee. It is called Seriously

Bill Haltom | 67

Robert Hicks of Franklin, Tennessee is a best-selling author, a Civil War historian, music publisher and executive and philanthropist.

Seersucker, and it is an elegant fund-raiser for the O’More College of Design in Franklin. Hundreds gather for this event on the lawn of the college and while, like Hicks, they are all serious about seersucker, they also know how to seriously have fun. The event brings together Robert Hicks’ love for music, dancing, food, and all things wonderfully southern. The cuisine is classic shrimp and grits, Southern fried chicken, bar-b-que, and for dessert, banana pudding, peach cobbler, or Seersucker Chocolate, produced by Seersucker Southern Craft Confections in Nashville. The seersucker revelers sip The Widow of the South cocktails, named after Robert Hicks’ first best-selling novel that he

68 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

Bill Haltom | 69

wrote thanks to the encouragement of the late, great Civil War historian Shelby Foote. The cocktail features a small bit of Battlefield Bourbon, a bourbon whiskey invented and produced by — who else? Robert Hicks. Seriously Seersucker brings together the many things Robert Hicks cherishes. And they’re all clad in seersucker. Seriously.

70 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

Bill Haltom | 71

a new generation for seersucker

enny Rubenstein began to notice that it wasn’t the same old crowd coming into his store in search of seersucker. It was a new young crowd. Rubenstein’s is a classic clothing store that has been located at the corner of St. Charles Avenue and Canal Street in the heart of the New Orleans business district since 1924. It was the first retail store in America to sell Joseph Haspel’s seersucker suits. The seersucker suits arrive at Rubenstein’s each year in February and sell out within a few weeks. The traditional customers are New Orleans businessmen as well as tourists who, while visiting the French Quarter or the Garden

Bill Haltom | 75

76 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

A young Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate.

District, want to drop by the legendary store to purchase classic seersucker wear. In recent years, Rubenstein has seen more and more young people come into the store in search of either a seersucker “retro look” or their own casual seersucker look. “They’re not looking for their grandfather’s Easter suit anymore,” laughs Rubenstein. “They want a trimmer look and a more colorful look.” Randy Hanauer of R. Hanauer Bow Ties sees an emerging new generation that is embracing the classic look, including seersucker. “Everything that was popular back in the late 50s and 60s – seersucker and madras and poplin and khaki – is now new to these kids,” says Hanauer. “The generation

Bill Haltom | 77

that is coming around now loves clothes, and they particularly love seersucker and madras. It’s all new and fresh to them. They’ve never seen it before. They think they invented it!” Responding to the new youthful demand, Rubenstein’s now offers seersucker jackets in a veritable rainbow of colors from all white, to red and white, blue and black, and forest green and navy. Rubenstein notes that young men prefer the colorful seersucker jackets and often wear them over t-shirts and blue jeans. And as Jolie and Elizabeth have proven, young women love beautiful seersucker sundresses, shorts, jackets, sarongs and swimsuits. In Atlanta, Sid Mashburn is on the cutting edge for a new generation of seersucker wearers. Literally. For Sid, the seersucker look for the new generation “is all about the cut. It’s all about the silhouette.” Mashburn’s seersucker line includes a Virgil jacket that is narrower across the shoulder, slimmer throughout the body, shorter in length, and has a classic center back hook vent. Similarly, Sam Shipley and Jeff Halmos, Haspel’s seersucker design duo, have updated the Haspel brand for the youthful audience with slimmer, trimmer, and more colorful cuts.

78 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

They’ve even designed casual wear that incorporates seersucker in such signature items as chinos that feature seersucker-lined pockets. And while a lot of young seersucker lovers follow in their grandfather’s footsteps by wearing white bucks, they have more casual options. Converse now offers the John Varvatos seersucker slip-on sneaker and, following on their heels, New Balance offers its 410 Seersucker. Further evidence that the younger generation now embraces seersucker are the Seersucker Days and Seersucker Socials that have emerged on college campuses across the country. Among them are Foxfield Race Day at the University of Virginia, and Seersucker Day at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia, when all students wear seersucker on the first day of classes, and pretty much every day at the University of Mississippi. But if you want to see the new generation of seersucker up close and personal, take a visit to Boston. In one respect Beantown is one of the oldest cities in America, as it was founded in 1630. But in another respect, Boston is one of the youngest cities in America. Boston has over a quarter of a million college students attending over 70 universities. It

Bill Haltom | 79

truly is a young, hip town and, in recent years, it has become a seersucker town! Chynna Pope is a twentysomething Bostonian who is leading a seersucker wave in New England. A former professional figure skater and ballerina, Chynna studied art history and architecture at Boston University and then attended the School of Fashion Design in Boston on Newbury Street. She is now a leading Boston fashion designer through her company, The Beacon Hill Bow Tie Club. Beacon Hill Bow Ties are enormously popular with the college and preppy crowd in Boston and, not surprisingly, among the most popular Beacon Hill Bow Ties are the ones made of seersucker. “New Englanders in general, and young New Englanders in particular, have a kind of love and respect for seersucker,” explains Chynna. “Seersucker is in the classic old Brahmin style. It’s kind of Old English, and it’s really preppy. We New Englanders believe that wearing a seersucker suit or seersucker anything is a connection brought back to that kind of lifestyle.” And it’s not just the New Englanders who have embraced the seersucker lifestyle in Boston. “Boston is a cos-

80 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

mopolitan city with a lot of international students attending our universities,” says Chynna. “You see young people here from all over the world, and they have their own new young interpretation of how they can wear cool new high tops with seersucker shorts and a tank top.” One of the proud members of Chynna’s Beacon Hill Bow Tie Club is Professor Pierce Harman. A true New England Renaissance man, Pierce is a teacher, photographer and prominent young Boston personality. He first fell in love with seersucker as an undergraduate at Washington & Lee University. He returned home to the North to obtain a PhD at Boston College and then taught for a number of years at Assumption College and Holy Cross College. “As a teacher,” he recalls, “I wanted to introduce my students to classical styles of dress but actually contemporize them, so I would come to class wearing a seersucker suit and bow tie.” Pierce Harman enjoys wearing classic seersucker suits to Sunday morning services at Church of the Advent on Beacon Hill. He also revels in wearing his cotton seersucker to the Somerset Club for dinner. But what he really values is “bringing seersucker to the streets of Boston.” On any given warm spring or summer day, Pierce can be seen riding his

Bill Haltom | 81

Will Ferrell sporting a seersucker coat and shorts before an appearance with David Letterman.

skateboard through Boston Commons dressed in seersucker. For Pierce, seersucker is a wonderful combination of both formal and informal, casual and elegant, and absolutely charming. He also likes the fact that the seersucker look has been passed on from his grandparents’ and parents’ generation to his generation, and that his generation is now giving it their own distinctive approach. “Seersucker is as alive as any fashion, anything that’s hitting the streets today, and it’s tried and true,” says Pierce. “And there’s just a wonderful charm about it.” Chynna Pope and Pierce Harman personify the new seersucker generation.

So why is the new generation embracing seersucker?

82 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

Bill Haltom | 83

For the same reason their parents and grandparents did ‌ because it is a distinctive combination of the dressy and casual, formal and informal, and above all, comfortable and fun.

84 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

Bill Haltom | 85

to everything there is a season

cclesiastes Chapter 3 teaches us, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under Heaven” — To which The Byrds, added, in the title of their 1965 song, “Turn! Turn! Turn!” This raises a fundamental question: When is the season for seersucker? Put another way, when can I take off this hot, itchy wool and put on my cool, comfortable seersucker? There is general, although not unanimous, agreement among seersucker aficionados that seersucker is not a year-round fabric. By definition, it is a warm weather fabric, and even in this era of global warming one doesn’t wear a seersucker suit to Thanksgiving dinner in Richmond, nor does Santa Claus come down your chimney wearing red and white striped seersucker on Christmas Eve, even in Miami Beach.

Bill Haltom | 89

There is general (but again not unanimous) agreement that part of the allure of seersucker is that one only wears it during the “seersucker season,” whatever that may be. Just as baseball fans in the “hot stove league” spend snowy winter nights by the fire dreaming of sunlit summer days at the ball park, seersucker lovers spend their winters looking forward to donning their wonderful puckered cotton suits at summertime picnics. But if there is in fact a season and a time to every seersucker purpose under Heaven, when can we turn, turn, turn to it? Andrew Thomas lives and writes in what is arguably, next to New Orleans, the greatest seersucker city in the world, Charleston. His blog, “The Pursuit of Civility,” celebrates the importance of courtesy, kindness, manners, and not coincidentally, seersucker! Thomas contends that there are three schools of thought regarding the duration of the seersucker season. School #1: Easter Sunday morning to Labor Day evening. School #2: Memorial Day morning to Labor Day evening. School #3: Whenever weather permits. What school you follow generally depends upon your lat-

90 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

itude and your attitude. The first school is found in the Deep South, below what has become known as the Sweet Tea Line, which should not be confused with the Mason-Dixon Line. The Sweet Tea Line is the demarcation point that truly separates the North from the South. If you go into a restaurant or diner north of this line and order tea, the waitress or waiter will ask you two questions: Hot or cold? Sweetened or unsweetened? But if you order tea south of the Sweet Tea Line, you will be served iced tea already sweetened with sugar, no questions asked. Thomas contends that under the south-of-the-Sweet-TeaLine school of fashion thought, the seersucker season is determined by the church calendar. “On Easter Sunday,” Thomas writes, “ladies don their sundresses with heirloom pearls and white shoes, and gentlemen don their seersucker suits with bow ties and white bucks (extra credit for those who wear a hat).” In Charleston, Thomas witnesses the beginning of the seersucker season on Easter Sunday morning at St. Philip’s Church where, he says, “you will see … seersucker plumage in all of its puckered glory.” Thomas acknowledges, however, that even south of the Sweet Tea Line, folks put away their seersucker “as soon as the

Bill Haltom | 91

sun begins to set on Labor Day.” Thomas acknowledges that “it can remain swelteringly hot until mid-November in the Deep South, but Southerners of the Easter-morning-to-Labor-Day-evening school suffer through the heat after Labor Day to avoid the glares of older ladies in church and around town.” Thomas confesses that he “would rather be uncomfortable in [his] pew wearing wool than comfortably wearing seersucker on a Sunday morning post-Labor Day and receiving the stern glare from one of the Grand Dames. It’s just not worth it.” The second school of thought – Memorial Day to Labor Day – is followed north of the Sweet Tea Line for obvious reasons. It’s still cold in Boston on Easter Sunday, and warm weather generally doesn’t arrive in the North until late spring. But the second school also has many followers in the South and throughout other warmer parts of the United States as folks regard seersucker as summer wear, and the unofficial start to summer is Memorial Day weekend. Andrew Thomas has noted that there is “an in-between school of thought between the first school and the second school, among people who believe that seersucker is appropriate on Easter but white shoes are not appropriate until after Memo-

92 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

rial Day.” Thomas rejects this compromise for the simple reason that like many true seersucker-wearing gentlemen, he strongly believes that you never wear a seersucker suit without white bucks. And the third school is, not surprisingly, advocated by Laurie Haspel Aronson. “Wear seersucker when it’s hot,” she declares. Jim Eikner, a noted seersucker-wearing Memphis TV personality agrees. “It is ridiculous,” he says, “for the fashion police to dictate that we have to pack up our seersucker suits and put on worsted wool on the morning after Labor Day when the temperature is still 90 degrees and the heat index is approximately the same as Ted Williams’ lifetime batting average.” But most seersucker traditionalists do not favor the whenever-it’s-hot approach. Andrew Thomas speaks for them when he says, “Christmas is 12 days for a reason. To extend Christmas before and after ruins its allure. Sure, people can listen to carols before December 25 and after January 5, but most people find this annoying and inappropriate. The same goes for wearing seersucker outside of its appropriate parameters. If there is no seersucker season, then seersucker itself is not nearly as special or as exciting.”

Bill Haltom | 93

So what’s a seersucker-loving guy or gal to do? Let your fashion conscience be your guide. If you want to save seersucker for a special time of year beginning sometime around opening day of baseball season and ending with the first college football kickoff, so be it. And if you want to don seersucker and white bucks at Thanksgiving dinner, go for it. It’s not like the fashion police are going to arrest you.

94 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

Bill Haltom | 95

the casual seersucker day

t was a bold idea, even in the innovative world of seersucker. In the 1950s, Sidney Winston of Chipp Clothiers in New York approached Josh Tonkel of Haspel of New Orleans to consider a new design for seersucker casual wear – the “shracket,” a short-sleeved seersucker jacket to be worn with short-sleeved shirts. It would be seersucker lite. Less fitting, feels great. Haspel took a chance on Winston’s idea. After all, Winston was a highly respected figure in men’s clothing. He was the personal tailor for a Massachusetts senator who would later become the President of the United States – John F. Kennedy. But while Haspel took a gamble on the shracket, it wisely hedged its bet. Haspel manufacturers made sure they had enough cloth to switch to standard long sleeved seersucker jack-

Bill Haltom | 99

ets if the shracket didn’t sell. The shracket turned out to be the Edsel of seersucker clothing. John F. Kennedy didn’t buy one, and very few people did. The shracket did not turn out to be a chapter in Profiles in Seersucker. But while the shracket was an idea whose time never came, Sidney Winston was a visionary for the modern seersucker casual look. These days seersucker is not confined to the classic look of the two-piece cotton suit worn with an Oxford cloth shirt, bow tie, white bucks, and straw boater or Panama hat. As G. Bruce Boyer has observed, “The great thing about seersucker is that you can dress it way, way up or way, way down. It is an incredibly malleable fabric.” You can wear your seersucker jacket over your button-down collar oxford cloth shirt and a R. Hanauer, Beacon Hill or High Cotton bow tie. But you can also wear it over T-shirts and blue jeans. If a young gentleman wants to wear a hat, he can opt for a seersucker cap rather than a straw hat. And the casual seersucker shoe has literally become sporty, as you can forego the white bucks, and instead wear your run-

100 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

Robert Redford pulls off a seersucker in 1960 in the series Moment of Fear.

Bill Haltom | 101

ning shoes, loafers or Docksiders. The seersucker is perfect for business casual days as seersucker trousers and a polo shirt look great with a classic blue sports jacket. And when business casual Friday gives way to the weekend, seersucker shirts, shorts, and swimwear give you a casual elegant look whether you are on the tennis court, golf course, at the beach, or flipping burgers at a backyard cookout. Almost by definition, seersucker is casual wear, whether the occasion is business formal, business casual, social, athletic or relaxing at home. You can wear it if you are sitting at your desk, a conference table, in your front porch swing, or your favorite easy chair. It’s also the perfect attire to wear during a summer nap in a hammock. It is literally a stress-free fabric. So relax. Wear seersucker.

102 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

Bill Haltom | 103

seersucker celebrations

egend has it the Mississippi Delta begins in the lobby of the stately Peabody Hotel in downtown Memphis. Over the years the Peabody lobby bar has been frequented by such Southern literary giants as Faulkner, Shelby Foote, Peter Taylor and, more recently, John Grisham. The most famous residents of the Peabody lobby are the world-famous Peabody ducks. Since the 1930s, a flock of mallard ducks have lived in the hotel’s penthouse on the Peabody Plantation Roof. Each day at 11 a.m. hundreds of tourists gather in the lobby of the Peabody to await the ducks’ arrival. The ducks ride the elevator down from the penthouse and then enter the Peabody lobby and

Bill Haltom | 107

Flash Mob at the Peabody.

108 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

march across a red carpet to the fountain in the middle of the lobby. The ducks then dive in the fountain and spend the day splashing and swimming to the delight of the Peabody patrons. But each year, on the Friday before Labor Day, the Peabody ducks are joined by over 100 seersucker-wearing men and women. No, they don’t jump in the fountain with the ducks, although if Joseph Haspel was still around, he would no doubt do it. Rather, the well-dressed crowd gathers in the Peabody lobby for the annual Seersucker Flash Mob. It is a sartorial sendoff for seersucker, as it is held on the last working day before Labor Day, which, according to some views, is the final day of the seersucker season. Memphis has long been a seersucker town. The late Memphis clothier, Jerry Salemi, was found of calling seersucker suits “a Memphis summer tuxedo.” And the Seersucker Flash Mob who join the ducks in the Peabody lobby on the Friday before Labor Day are an elegant crowd. The mob includes many judges, lawyers, bankers and, as they are called in Memphis, “bidnessmen.” The Seersucker Flash Mob actually originated several years ago on the opposite side of the Volunteer State in Knoxville. It

Bill Haltom | 109

was the brainchild of a well-dressed lawyer named Nick McCall who wanted to put on a classic seersucker celebration. His friends in Memphis stole the idea and ran with it (McCall is a very good lawyer, but he unfortunately failed to trademark Seersucker Flash Mob). The Memphis Seersucker Flash Mob is sponsored by Lansky’s, a famous clothing store located in the Peabody, adjacent to the lobby. Its fame is due in large tape measure to the fact that it was the favorite clothing store of the King himself, Elvis Presley. Elvis never wore seersucker. He preferred either gold lamé or white jumpsuits. Hal Lansky, the “King” of Lansky’s Clothing, says, “Elvis was cool, and so is seersucker, so we are proud to sponsor the Seersucker Flash Mob!” As befits its name, the Seersucker Flash Mob lasts only a few minutes. The Memphis summer tuxedo crowd quickly gathers in the lobby by the ducks in the fountain, where they pose for a photograph. They also have a very brief contest for Mr. Memphis Seersucker and Ms. Memphis Seersucker. Contestants model their seersucker wardrobe and, following the traditional format of the Miss America Pageant, they answer questions such as, “If you were elected Ms. Seersucker, how would you use seersucker to promote world peace?”

110 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

Not surprisingly, the most recent winners were lawyers. Eighty-two-year-old Robert Green was named Mr. Seersucker, and a much younger Claire Cissell was crowned Ms. Seersucker. Cissell told the Memphis Commercial Appeal that being named Ms. Seersucker was “my finest hour.” The Seersucker Flash Mob is one of many seersucker celebrations held across the country. In Washington, D.C., one of the biggest parties of the year is the annual Seersucker Social. Held in June, it is sponsored by a fun-loving group called Dandies and Quaintrelles. Seersucker Social day begins with a lawn party at the National Museum of African Art featuring music, picnic lunches, and some not-so-serious games of croquet. The fun continues into the evening with a Seersucker Social bike ride through the streets of our nation’s capital, ending with a post-ride party at Mal Maison. The picnickers, croquet players, and bike riders all wear — what else? — seersucker! (In the fall, Dandies and Quaintrelles sponsor the Tweed bike ride where the riders are adorned in autumnal fabric. It’s not nearly as impressive or comfortable as the Seersucker Social bike ride, but the tweed can keep the riders warm on a brisk fall day.) Each year in early May, the Phoenix Club of Jackson,

Bill Haltom | 111

Mississippi hosts what can best be described as a multi-cultural seersucker event, Seersucker and Sombreros. A fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Mississippi, Seersucker and Sombreros simultaneously celebrates three events: The start of seersucker season in the Magnolia State, the Kentucky Derby, and Cinco de Mayo. The 2015 event raised over $60,000 for the Boys and Girls Club, and featured a combination of mint julips, margaritas, and Mississippi mules, (a drink, not a donkey), and large straw sombreros you could wear either to the Kentucky Derby or a bullfight. But fittingly, perhaps the most elegant of such seersucker soirees is Sippin’ in Seersucker, an annual fundraiser for the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans. And what better place to celebrate seersucker than the Crescent City, seersucker’s birthplace? Sippin’ in Seersucker brings together three of the greatest assets of New Orleans: food, music and seersucker. More than 20 of New Orleans’ finest restaurants serve hors d’oeuvres and libations to the sippin’ seersuckers, while several local bands provide the entertainment. The headliners for the 2014 event were the Creole String Beans. This was the band,

112 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

Sippin in Seersucker poster.

Bill Haltom | 113

not one of the hors d’oeuvres. They were a big hit, and the seersucker sippers danced the night away. But the main event at Sippin’ in Seersucker is always the Seersucker Fashion Contest. The 2014 contest was won by Tabitha Bethune, who stole the show in a seersucker evening gown she had personally designed. It sounds like some serious competition for the Memphis summer tuxedo. The Seersucker Flash Mob, Sippin’ in Seersucker, and similar splendid seersucker events around the country prove that seersucker aficionados not only like to wear seersucker. They like to party in it and celebrate in it! After all, seersucker is fun, and it’s not just a look. It’s an attitude.

114 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

Bill Haltom | 115

faith, hope, and seersucker

or many well-dressed Americans, seersucker is a religious experience … or at least a part of one. On Easter Sunday morning, the seersucker faithful gather at All Saints Chapel at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, St. Luke’s Church in Birmingham, West End United Methodist in Nashville, Trinity United Methodist in Savannah, or First Baptist Church in Charleston. They pack the pews clad in their finest seersucker. It is the perfect start to the seersucker season south of the Sweet Tea Line as the faithful rejoice and are glad in seersucker. A few weeks after Easter, the seersucker season arrives at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Kansas City with their an-

Bill Haltom | 119

nual Seersucker Sunday. St. Paul’s Rector, Dr. Stan Runnells, and Associate Rector, Rev. Megan Castellan, conduct the services wearing seersucker vestments. They serve communion to seersucker-clad parishioners as they celebrate the blessing of the sweetest fabric this side of Heaven. After the services, they gather in the church’s great hall to enjoy Southern treats such as shrimp and grits. There is no “prayer for seersucker” in the Book of Common Prayer, and the Bible does not contain a single verse on seersucker. However, Deuteronomy 22:11 says, “Do not wear clothes of wool and linen woven together.” Clearly this is a Biblical admonition against worsted wool, and if not a commandment, at least a suggestion to wear seersucker! In any event, Seersucker Sunday is the perfect way to welcome the advent of spring and the promise of summer. But Easter Sunday and Seersucker Sunday at St. Paul’s are not the only seersucker spiritual occasions. In church sanctuaries or on beaches or even mountaintops, the dearly beloved are frequently gathering together to watch a young couple promise to love and cherish one another and forsake all other fabric till death do them part. Yes,

120 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

seersucker weddings are now the fashion. Jolie and Elizabeth of New Orleans have provided a seersucker wardrobe for nearly 30 weddings over the past five years. “Seersucker weddings have become very trendy,” says Elizabeth. “Sometimes it’s the bridesmaids wearing seersucker dresses. Sometimes it’s the groomsmen in seersucker suits. And sometimes it’s the entire wedding party. It seems more and more couples want everything to match, and it’s the perfect wedding attire for outside weddings on the beach or the family farm.” In Denver, future brides and grooms attend The Bridal Bash, an annual runway fashion show sponsored by My Wedding, a wedding consulting firm. The models strut down a runway wearing the latest designs for the bride and her bridesmaids to wear as they march towards the altar and for the groom and groomsmen to wear as they anxiously await the bride’s arrival. At a recent Bridal Bash, the wedding wardrobe was provided by Sully & Company, a preeminent Colorado clothier. Mark Snipes, the owner of Sully, recalls that the biggest hit was seersucker, particularly the smart-looking suits worn by model grooms and groomsmen. When Kayla Rogers and Joel Klein decided to tie the

Bill Haltom | 121

knot, they designated it a seersucker knot. Kayla and Joel are both school teachers in Boston. Kayla decided to have her wedding in beautiful Mint Hill, North Carolina, outside of Charlotte, where her parents live. Kayla and Joel contacted Addie Mae Weiss of New England Wedding Professionals, wedding consultants in Sherborn, Massachusetts. While Addie is a transplanted New Englander, she’s a southern gal, and when Kayla and Joel told her they wanted to mix north and south and formal and casual for their wedding, Addie and the couple came up with the perfect theme for a Southern summer wedding – seersucker! The save-the-date cards featured a photograph of Kayla and Joel and their dog wearing a seersucker bow. The invitations featured a pink striped ribbon. While the attire for the service at St. Luke’s Catholic Church was more formal; the reception was a pool party at the Old Sycamore Golf Plantation with a blue seersucker background, barbeque, and even a visit from an ice cream truck. The seersucker nuptials and the reception were so wonderful that the Vineyard Vines Company featured Kayla and Joel’s wedding in their catalog and on their blog, inspiring other young romantic couples across the country to dream of

122 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

a seersucker ceremony of their own. It was the classic seersucker combination of elegance and casual, and the perfect start for a well-dressed marriage. While Kayla and Joel had a traditional church wedding, more and more betrothals these days are destination weddings, and that destination is usually a beach. And what more perfect attire for an oceanfront wedding than seersucker? And it’s practical too, as members of the wedding party can continue to wear their seersucker wedding attire long after the wedding, the reception, the honeymoon and several anniversaries. Regardless of the destination, whenever you arrive at a wedding the attention focuses on the bride. The famed dress designer Ian Stuart has designed a seersucker Libertine wedding gown that will cause every jaw in the church or on the beach to drop as the bride is escorted down the aisle or across the sand. And more and more wedding receptions feature seersucker tablecloths, seersucker-look cakes, a seersucker ribbon around the bouquet of flowers the new bride tosses over her head to her bridesmaids who are dreaming of their own seersucker weddings, and of course, the seersucker garter!

Bill Haltom | 123

A seersucker wedding.

124 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

And when the seersucker union ultimately leads to a seersucker family, there are seersucker baptismal and christening gowns for the little bundle of joy. From Easter Sunday morning to Seersucker Sunday to weddings and baptisms, it is faith, hope and seersucker in a celebration of all the blessings of life.

Bill Haltom | 125

seersucker in hollywood

n 2003, the American Film Institute named him the greatest film hero of the past 100 years. And he wore seersucker. The hero was Atticus Finch, a courageous Southern lawyer portrayed by Gregory Peck in his Academy Award-winning performance in the 1962 film, To Kill a Mockingbird. The film was based on Harper Lee’s extraordinary novel about a small town Alabama lawyer during the Depression who truly was a hero, not only as a lawyer, but as a father. The book sold 30 million copies, and to this day millions of people will tell you that it’s the most inspirational novel they’ve ever read. When Hollywood takes a novel and puts it on the

Bill Haltom | 129

Actors Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch and Brock Peters as Tom Robinson in the film To Kill a Mockingbird, 1962. Peck’s suit was

crafted by Haspel. Credit: Silver Screen Collection

130 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

screen, the result is often disappointing. But that was not the case with To Kill a Mockingbird. The motion picture was loved by millions of readers who had revered the book, and inspired millions more who experienced Harper Lee’s great story for the first time while sitting in a movie theatre. The film’s most dramatic moments occur in a hot, crowded Alabama courtroom as Atticus Finch fights a losing battle in a criminal trial to defend an innocent client, Tom Robinson. Hollywood went to great lengths to make the film true to the novel and to portray a trial in a Southern courtroom as realistically as possible. And they made sure they got the wardrobe right. In his portrayal of Atticus Finch, Gregory Peck wore a three-piece seersucker suit designed for him by Haspel of New Orleans. Joseph Haspel, Jr. even personally fitted him. No other costume would have done the role justice. In his classic seersucker attire, Gregory Peck was the personification of the quintessential Southern lawyer. Atticus Finch wasn’t the only lawyer Hollywood adorned in seersucker. In the 1969 cult classic, Easy Rider, Jack Nicholson played attorney George Hanson, who comes to the aid

Bill Haltom | 131

of Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper when they are thrown into a Southern small town jail. After he springs them Nicholson, clad in a seersucker jacket and a football helmet, climbs on the back of Fonda’s motorcycle and joins Peter and Dennis as they go looking for America. In the 1980s, Ben Matlock became the most popular TV lawyer since Perry Mason, and he was a lot better dressed. Matlock was played by Andy Griffith, a legendary Southern comedian and actor who in the 1960s portrayed Sheriff Andy Taylor in the highly popular sitcom, The Andy Griffith Show. The fictional Ben Matlock was reportedly based on a real-life Atlanta lawyer, Bobby Lee Cook, known throughout the Peach State as the dean of Georgia criminal defense lawyers. As a true Southern criminal defense attorney, Bobby Lee wore seersucker, and true to the character he portrayed, so did Andy Griffith as Matlock. Well, at least he did at the beginning of the TV series. In an era prior to the advent of high definition TV, seersucker presented some technical difficulties. In the earliest films of the show, Matlock’s blue-and-white striped seersucker often

132 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

appeared blurred on the TV screen. It was a problem that had not been encountered in the black-and-white filming of To Kill a Mockingbird or, on Perry Mason, since Perry always wore a dark suit. He was a great trial lawyer, but not exactly a snappy dresser. On the other hand, his private investigator Paul Drake always wore jazzy sports jackets. The Matlock film crew resolved the problem by switching from stripes to solids, re-outfitting Matlock in a light grey model. But it still resembled seersucker, and so it did the trick. Fictional lawyers aren’t the only heroic characters Hollywood has portrayed in seersucker. In the opening scene of the Oscar-winning 1968 film, The Graduate, Dustin Hoffman as young Benjamin Braddock appears at his graduation party wearing — what else? — a seersucker sports jacket. Although his college is never identified in the movie, it was referred to as “being back east,” and Dustin Hoffman looked like one of the classic Ivy Leaguers who over the decades had adopted seersucker as their unofficial uniform. The always-dapper Cary Grant wore seersucker in Charade and, more recently, Leonardo DiCaprio donned seersucker in the latest Hollywood film version of The Great Gatsby. One can hardly imagine F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby wear-

Bill Haltom | 133

134 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

Samuel L. Jackson arrives at the Snakes on a Plane Premiere sporting a seersucker coat. Credit: Jason Merritt

ing anything other than seersucker. But there is no doubt that the most memorable seersucker character in Hollywood history was Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, and among the lessons he taught us was this: If you want to give the performance of a lifetime, wear seersucker!

Bill Haltom | 135

the perfect law suit

here was one Hollywood lawyer who did not wear seersucker to court, and it turned out to be a big mistake. In the 1992 comedy film classic, My Cousin Vinny, criminal defense lawyer Vincent Gambini appeared in an Alabama courtroom wearing a leather jacket. This irritated Judge Chamberlain Haller, played by Fred Gwynne, an actor best known to TV viewers of the 1960s for his portrayal of Herman Munster on The Munsters. Judge Munster, or rather Judge Chamberlain, sized up the leather jacket during Vinny’s first court appearance and solemnly issued an order to Vinny: “The next time you appear in my court, you will look lawyerly. And I mean you comb your hair, and wear a suit and tie. And that suit had better be made of

Bill Haltom | 139

Andy Griffith as Matlock. Credit: ABC Photo Archives

some sort of … cloth.” No doubt about it, that cloth should have been seersucker. The evidence is not clear whether it is a legal case of art imitating life or life imitating art, but there is no doubt that a seersucker suit is the wardrobe of choice of lawyers not just in the South but all over the country. It is indeed “the perfect law suit.” In Knoxville, Tennessee, United States District Judge Pamela Reeves wears black robes in her courtroom. It’s her uniform, of course. But when she is not on the bench on summer days, Judge Reeves loves to wear seersucker. Her favorite outfit is an orange and white seersucker jacket with a matching skirt. She loves the colors because they are the official colors of her

140 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

alma mater, the University of Tennessee, and Judge Reeves is a loyal Volunteer. In that same Southern town, Chief Justice Sharon Lee of the Tennessee Supreme Court also loves seersucker, and she too wears it when she’s not on the bench. “I’ve actually thought about getting some seersucker robes,” the Chief Justice announces, laughing. Hey, Your Honor! You’re the Chief Justice! You can wear any robe you want, can’t you? May it please the court! On the other side of the bench, at the counsel table, lawyers all across the country love the seersucker law suit. Seersucker is the law suit of choice for country lawyers on courthouse squares and big city lawyers in urban skyscrapers. In the booming metropolis of Paragould, Arkansas, trial lawyer Harry Truman Moore wears seersucker every day from Easter to Labor Day. “I love seersucker, and more important, Judges and juries like seersucker,” explains Counselor Moore. In Ridgeland, Mississippi, Will Bardwell, an attorney with the very well-dressed firm of McCraney, Motagnet, Quinn & Noble, wears seersucker not only in the courtroom and the boardroom but pretty much everywhere he goes from Easter to Labor Day. Seersucker became Bardwell’s law suit shortly after he finished law school and discovered that seersucker could take

142 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

him anywhere from the courtroom to social occasions in a seamless transition. “It’s dressy but not pretentious,” he explains. And in Washington, D.C., the power lawyers of Squire, Patton, Boggs have an annual seersucker day each June. The mega-law firms in New York City and Washington have long been referred to as “white shoe firms.” Maybe it’s because of the white bucks — or maybe not — but as the old saying goes, “if the shoe fits, wear it.” Regardless, the verdict is in. Seersucker is the perfect law suit for cool judges and lawyers.

Bill Haltom | 143

the wide world of seersucker in sports

t is the first leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown, and each year on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs in Louisville, that leg and thousands of other legs are covered with seersucker. The Kentucky Derby is more than a horse race. It is a pageant. It is an elegant party, and for millions of well-dressed Americans (including many of those who live north of the Sweet Tea Line), the Kentucky Derby is the start of the seersucker season. Over 150,000 spectators gather at Churchill Downs each year for the Derby. Millions more watch the race on television at Kentucky Derby parties in homes across America. It is an eclectic crowd, ranging from horse owners sitting by the finish line on Millionaires Row to the 80,000 raucous

Bill Haltom | 147

Jamie Foxx donned a multicolor seersucker for the 2014 Kentucky Derby.

148 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

fans who squeeze their way into the infield, making the Derby resemble a rock concert, like Woodstock without the mud. And the trifecta for all of these fans is seersucker, a mint julip and a winning race ticket. The race itself lasts only a couple of minutes — “the most exciting two minutes in sports” — but the unbridled seersucker enthusiasm runs for hours both before and after the run for the roses. While a hat may be an optional item for a seersucker wardrobe any other time, it is absolutely mandatory for the Kentucky Derby. Women’s hats at the Derby are wonderfully outlandish, resembling what the Queen Mother wears to a Royal Wedding. The bigger, the bolder, the better. And Derby Day is the perfect time for men to store the wool fedora on the upper shelf of the cedar closet and trot out their best ribboned straw hat. But the Kentucky Derby is not the only sporting event that features seersucker. Baseball has long been America’s national pastime, and for many fans and even players it has been a seersucker pastime, as well. In 1930, Joseph Haspel caused a brief delay in a Universi-

Bill Haltom | 149

ty of Virginia baseball game in Charlottesville when he appeared in the stands wearing a double-breasted sky blue seersucker suit. His outfit caused such a stir that the outfielders came in for a closer look. And then, more recently, the Charleston River Dogs proved they are no doubt the best-dressed team in baseball — and in all of sports, for that matter. The River Dogs are in the South Atlantic League, a Class A professional baseball league that plays in some of the South’s hottest ballparks and features teams with really cool nicknames, including the Greensboro Grasshoppers and the Savannah Sand Gnats. The league was prominently featured in the 1988 film, Bull Durham, as Kevin Costner played for the South Atlantic League’s Asheville Tourists. In 2014, the minor league team announced that the River Dogs would wear seersucker uniforms for all Sunday home games played at Riley Park in downtown Charleston. River Dogs’ General Manager Dave Echols explained the move to the Charleston Post and Courier, saying, “Seersucker is a staple in the lowcountry, and we thought that having our uniforms made in that style would not only be cooler for the players, but it will also make them look cooler. We’re certain the players

150 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

will like them, and we’re also certain that our fans will as well.” It was a great call by Manager Echols, as the River Dogs’ light blue and white seersucker unis are not just a hit; they are a home run. And when baseball season is over and football season arrives, seersucker is a favorite of college football fans throughout the South (yes, even after Labor Day). Probably the best-dressed students in America attend the University of Mississippi, better known as “Ole Miss.” Ole Miss students, alumni, and football fans hold the classiest pre-game tailgating parties in all of college football. It is a misnomer to call them “tailgating parties,” because they are held not in the backs of pickup trucks, but rather under elegant awnings in The Grove on the Ole Miss campus. And the pre-game fashion show features that classic Southern football fabric, seersucker. Beautiful coeds wear seersucker dresses, and their lucky dates tend to wear seersucker trousers along with their blue frat-row sports coats. In October 2014, the young seersucker-clad Ole Miss students were joined on their campus by a much older seersucker-wearing gentleman, Lee Corso, host of ESPN’s College Football Gameday. The show was being broadcast from the Grove

Bill Haltom | 151

prior to the Ole Miss-Alabama football game. As the cameras rolled, Corso appeared on the Grove set wearing a beautiful seersucker suit and bow tie. He had bought the cotton ensemble just a couple days earlier from Landry’s, a wonderful men’s clothing store on the town square in Oxford. When Corso had entered the store and asked to try on a seersucker suit, Landry’s owner, Stan Shanks, told him, “Well, you’re really not supposed to wear seersucker after Labor Day.” The eternally-enthusiastic Corso immediately responded, “Stan, I’ve been wanting to wear one of these all my life, and I’m in Oxford, Mississippi, and I’m gonna wear it on Gameday!” The dress is a lot less formal at Death Valley in Baton Rouge, the legendary home of the LSU Tigers, but you’ll see plenty of purple-and-gold striped seersucker shirts and shorts throughout the student section. Pennington & Bailes markets a Bayou Bengal seersucker skirt popular with LSU coeds. Geaux Seersucker! But perhaps the most inspirational seersucker sports statement occurs each year in June at the annual St. Jude Classic Golf Tournament in Memphis. It is truly a seersucker event. The St. Jude Classic is a fundraiser and celebration for one of the greatest hospitals in the world, the St. Jude Children’s

152 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

Research Hospital in Memphis. The hospital was founded over 50 years ago by the late entertainer Danny Thomas and is now one of the foremost facilities in the world for the research and treatment of children’s catastrophic diseases. Over the years, the St. Jude Classic Golf Tournament has given golf some of its most memorable moments. In 1977, President Gerald Ford hit a hole-in-one at the tournament’s annual Celebrity Pro Am event, and that same year, Al Geiberger put together a round of 11 birdies and an eagle to shoot 59, the lowest 18-hole score in PGA tour history. In 2008 the tournament’s organizers came up with an idea that has become a tradition for the tournament, making it the best-dressed event in sports. Wes Kraker, the chairman of the tournament board and president of Children’s Champions for Hope, Inc., announced that the final round of the tournament would be played on Seersucker Sunday, with the fans being encouraged to wear seersucker to “show their stripes” for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. “Whether it is a shirt, pants, a hat, or even a ribbon, wearing seersucker on Sunday is a way for our fans to become more

Bill Haltom | 153

154 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

Ben Crane poses in his championship coat after winning the FedEx St. Jude Classic in 2014 in Memphis, Tennessee.

connected to the tournament and a way for all of us to demonstrate our support for St. Jude, the most important element of this event,” announced Kraker. It was further announced that Seersucker Sunday would culminate with the tournament champion being presented a seersucker jacket. For decades, the winner of the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Georgia has been presented the coveted green jacket. And now the champion of the St. Jude Classic also wears a jacket … a seersucker one. And seersucker isn’t just worn by the St. Jude’s champion. It is worn by hundreds of fans in the gallery as well. Seersucker Sunday has become a tradition at the St. Jude’s

Bill Haltom | 155

Golf Tournament. It is a beautiful sight when the new champion is presented with his seersucker jacket upon the completion of the final round. But it is not just a beautiful sight, it is an inspirational one. That’s because there are many champions wearing seersucker at the St. Jude Classic on Seersucker Sunday. The tournament winner is wearing a seersucker jacket, but in the seersucker-clad crowd, there are many other champions. They are patients from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, proudly wearing seersucker and cheering on the golfers. They are the true champions on Seersucker Sunday.

156 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

Bill Haltom | 157

seersucker in washington

n a warm spring Thursday in June 1996 the United States Senate, for one brief shining moment, was truly united. Republicans and Democrats came together in a bipartisan celebration of the fabric of our nation. And that fabric was seersucker. Republican Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi strode onto the floor of the Senate wearing a seersucker suit, white bucks, and a beautiful pink silk tie and matching pink socks. There he was joined by Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein of California, also resplendent in a beautiful seersucker suit. It was a bipartisan fashion call in an effort to promote civility in our nation’s capital, where just a few months before, the federal government had literally shut down due to bickering between Con-

Bill Haltom | 161

President Harry S. Truman during a morning walk in June of 1953. Credit: George Skadding

gressional leaders. Senator Lott had first come to Capitol Hill as a Congressional staffer in the 1960s and fondly recalled that his job was “to light the cigars and mix the cheap bourbon at Congressional bipartisan card games.� Senator Lott remembered an era when America’s lawmakers and their families lived in Washington for uninterrupted months at a time, socializing together at dinners and parties. They could debate and disagree over the issues facing the nation, but their social interactions made it less likely that they would demonize one another and more likely they would find bipartisan agreements. As Senator Lott told Dana Milbank of the Washington

Bill Haltom | 163

Post, “It’s harder to give somebody a real hard time when you were out with them and their spouse the night before.” By the time Trent Lott was elected to the Senate, Washington had changed. Lawmakers had voted themselves extensive travel allowances, leaving their families back home and spending just three to four days a week in Washington before flying back to their districts. In Senator Lott’s view, this was not progress. In fact, he saw it as no coincidence that when members of Congress started spending every weekend back home, there was stalemating gridlock in the United States Congress when they returned. Senator Lott had tried a number of approaches to bring back civility and comradery in the United States Senate. He encouraged Senate harmony by starting a quartet, The Singing Senators. They recorded a CD, Let Freedom Sing, and even did a concert tour through 15 states, raising $350,000 for the Alzheimer’s Foundation in honor of President Ronald Reagan. He also attempted to get colleagues to wear kilts on an annual Tartan Day, but he turned out to be the only male senator willing to show his legs in Congress. And then he came up with a brilliant solution: Seersucker Thursday! As Senate Majority Leader, he announced that the third Thursday in June of each year would be Seersucker Thursday. He

164 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

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.” Senator Diane Feinstein wasn’t going to let her male colleagues in the Senate steal the show. She urged her female colleagues to join the bipartisan fashion parade. “I watched the men preening in the Senate,” she said, “and I figured we should give them a little bit of a horse race.” And Senator Feinstein put her money where her mouth was. Without spending a single taxpayer dollar, she personally bought seersucker dress suits for eleven of her female Senate colleagues. Within a few years, Seersucker Thursday had become a great Senate tradition with nearly a third of the United States Senate donning seersucker each year on the third Thursday of June. They posed side-by-side on the Senate floor for a photograph, and then join each other for ice cream in the Capitol dairy bar. For a brief period of time, the federal government began to function again. By the year 2000, the federal budget had been balanced, and our lawmakers were paying off the national debt. You could call this a coincidence, but you could also call it a bipartisan seersucker solution to America’s problems. Seersucker Thursday was actually a restoration of a long seersucker tradition in Washington.

Bill Haltom | 165

President Franklin D. Roosevelt loved seersucker. His Presidential wardrobe included three Haspel seersucker suits, including a double-breasted blue, a blue pin check and a plain brown stripe. FDR proudly wore his puckered cotton threads on road trips across the Dust Bowl in the 1930s and to international conferences in the tropics. America had “nothing to fear but fear itself” and wool suits in the summertime. In June of 1945, Time covered a press conference of President Harry S. Truman and focused on his wardrobe, reporting, “The confident man in the White House, cool in a seersucker suit and soft-hard white shirt, was optimistic.” There was one unfortunate Presidential putdown of seersucker. At a White House press conference in August 2006, President George W. Bush commented on the attire of reporter Ken Herman of the Austin Statesman. At first, the President issued a compliment on his attire, an off-white seersucker suit, saying, “By the way, seersucker is coming back.” But later at the same press conference, President Bush chided Herman for wearing “that just ridiculous-looking outfit.” It was a Presidential misstatement ranking right up there with President Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook” or President Bill

166 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

President George W. Bush (R) and his father, former U.S. President George Bush (L, in seersucker) wave as they leave a family wedding at St. John’s Episcopal Church in May of 2006 in Washington, D.C. Credit: Pool

Clinton’s “I did not inhale.” White House Press Secretary Dana Perino quickly intervened to avert a Washington seersucker storm, explaining that the President was just having a little fun with Herman, a reporter and fellow Texan he had long known and respected. Ken Herman stuck by his seersucker guns, saying, “If there is anything reporters know better than math, it’s fashion.” President Bush quickly heard from seersucker-loving voters across America. Their message was clear: don’t mess with Texas, and don’t mess with seersucker. The President quickly moved to cut his losses by ordering a suit from Haspel’s. Although it was a linen suit, Haspel quickly filled the order. Ironically, President Bush could have avoided the whole seersucker political snafu had he only consulted with a previous President named Bush — his father, President George Herbert Walker Bush, a noted fan of seersucker who proudly wore it when he was President. But the younger President Bush’s fashion misstatement was an anomaly. For decades, seersucker had been a Washington uniform, both officially and unofficially. During World War II, Captain Anne A. Lentz of the United States Marine Corps Women’s

168 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

Reserve chose seersucker as the fabric for the summer service uniforms of the female U.S. Marines. They were the few, the proud, and definitely the well-dressed. Semper seersucker! And even before the advent of Seersucker Thursday, seersucker was the favored summer wardrobe for members of Congress. Senators Lott and Feinstein were working through Seersucker Thursday to restore and preserve a long tradition of fashion and civility in the Capitol Building. And then, in 2011, the Senate seersucker bond was sadly broken. Trent Lott was no longer majority leader, and the Lott-Feinstein bipartisan fashion coalition was no more. The Senate was being led by Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Through their staffers, they quietly notified members of the Senate that Seersucker Thursday was being discontinued. The reason? The Washington Post reported it was cancelled because Senate leadership “thought it would be politically unwise to be seen doing something frivolous when there is so much conflict over major issues.” The fact that Senate leaders characterized wearing seersucker as “frivolous” showed just how out of touch they had become. So the seersucker suits went back into Senate cloakrooms, and the lawmakers returned to wearing dark suits and serious, hate-

Bill Haltom | 169

ful expressions. Consequently, the whole country started going to Hell in a worsted wool hand basket. A few courageous senators ignored the Senate seersucker ban. On the third Thursday in June of 2012, Senator Mike Lee of Utah marched onto the Senate floor wearing seersucker, white bucks, and a pink tie. And much like Jimmy Stewart in the classic motion picture Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Lee spoke in a oneman defense of Seersucker Thursday, telling his fellow Senators, “There is potentially much to be gained by participating in these traditions that helped forge friendships in the Senate.” Senator Lee and other Congressional colleagues kept the seersucker hopes alive. And then, in 2014, a Congressman from Louisiana, with the prompting from one of his constituents (Laurie Haspel Aronson), announced something even bigger than Seersucker Thursday: National Seersucker Day—a special annual day when seersucker would be celebrated not only in the Capital, but throughout the nation.

170 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

Bill Haltom | 171

national seersucker day

he senatorial ban of Seersucker Thursday did not last. By June of 2014, seersucker was back in the House. The United States House of Representatives, that is. That spring, Congressman Bill Cassidy of Louisiana (where else?) filed a proclamation with the House of Representatives which was, in effect, a State of the Seersucker address. It read: In celebration and appreciation of seersucker manufacturers and admirers around the country, I extend a Happy Seersucker Day. With its rich history dating back to 1909, seersucker clothing is a unique American fashion. The original seer-

Bill Haltom | 175

On June 16, 2005, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR), Senate Majority Whip Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Sen. Christopher Bond (R-MO), Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS), Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN), Senate Majority Leader Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN), Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) posed for photographers during a photo session for the annual official photo of Seersucker Thursday on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Seersucker Thursday is an official rite of spring which was organized by former Mississippi Senator Lott. Credit: Alex Wong

sucker suit was designed by Joseph Haspel at his Broad Street facility in New Orleans and has been enjoyed since by many Americans. The lightweight cotton fabric with its signature “pucker” had provided comfortable fashion wear during hot summer months. As Mr. Haspel said, “hot is hot, no matter what you do for a living,” and seersucker clothing is now enjoyed by Americans across the country in all walks of life. In the late 1990s, Seersucker Day was established to honor this unique American fashion. I wish to restart this tradition by designating Wednesday, June 11, as National Seersucker Day. I encourage everyone to wear seersucker to commemorate this iconic American clothing.

The proclamation caught the attention of the national media. The headline in the Los Angeles Times read, “YIPES, STRIPES, IT’S NATIONAL SEERSUCKER DAY!” The somewhat more serious Washington Post featured the headline “HEAVY ISSUES REMAIN, BUT LIGHT ATTIRE RETURNS TO CONGRESS.” It was a vindication for Senators Trent Lott and Diane Feinstein.

Bill Haltom | 177

After leaving the Senate in 2007, Senator Lott repeatedly called for the return of Seersucker Thursday for the good of the country. He told the Washington Post’s Dana Milbanks, “If I could give my friends in the Senate one piece of advice, it would be to start Seersucker Thursday again. There’s no opportunity to have any fun.” Lott added, “Some say you don’t want to make it look like the Senate’s being jovial with all these serious things going on. My view is you can’t get serious things done because you don’t have events where you can enjoy each other’s company.” His former Senate colleague and co-founder of Seersucker Thursdays, Senator Feinstein, agreed. In an interview on Fox News Sunday she said, “Everything we do in the Senate is serious. We never have a chance to laugh at each other. And Seersucker Thursday was a good opportunity.” A grateful nation celebrated as news of National Seersucker Day went viral on the Internet. The Haspel Company tweeted, “National#Seersucker Day returns to DC and to dapper gentlemen everywhere!” There were reports in the national media that seersucker was “making a comeback.” But that was the same misstatement President George W.

178 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

Bush had made during his unfortunate press conference in August 2006. Seersucker wasn’t making a comeback. It may have been overlooked by some for a time, but it had never really gone away. And now, thanks to National Seersucker Day, the fabric of America was being celebrated throughout the nation.

Bill Haltom | 179

the future of seersucker

ever take your seersucker for granted. Believe it or not, there has been a recent effort to ban it ‌ at least in Missouri. In 2013, Missouri State Senator Ryan McKenna, no doubt appropriately dressed in a dark wool suit, rose on the floor of the Show-Me State Legislature and moved to add the following amendment to an education bill: Any person living in this state aged 8 and under may wear seersucker suits at their leisure. Any person over the age of 8 living in this state may not wear seersucker suits because adults look ridiculous in seersucker suits.

Bill Haltom | 183

The reaction of well-dressed lawmakers was swift. In a defiant act of solidarity, several legislators appeared in the Senate wearing the very dapper threads Senator McKenna sought to ban. The senator quickly withdrew his proposed amendment, saying, “It was all in jest anyway.” But he continued to defend his sartorial bias, saying he felt “bullied” by the “dandyish peacocking” of his Senate colleagues. No doubt about it: the Missouri politician is a nattering nabob of seersucker negativism. Just as seersucker is loved by millions, it has its fair share of skeptics. In 2011, an online magazine, The Curator, published “The Seersucker Manifesto” by blogger Kevin Gosa. Gosa warned his readers, “No more dangerous fabric has ever been woven, washed or worn in the history of mankind than seersucker.” Gosa mocked the perception that “seersucker is contemporarily associated with Southern gentlemanliness.” Gosa contended that “the very essence of a (seersucker) outfit oozes mockery and self-awareness,” contending that there is nothing “gentlemanly about such contempt-filled costumery.”

184 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

Gosa’s critique was not of seersucker per se, but of people who wear it to create a false impression of chivalry or gentility. At the end of his manifesto, Gosa confessed that he lacked the confidence to wear seersucker, and he commended those who do so with authenticity: More than anything, to wear seersucker well you have to believe in it – own it 100 percent. No hesitation; no waffling; no backpeddling … I can’t match that. So I don’t wear seersucker. I can’t pull it off, and I know I can’t … For those who sincerely sport seersucker, I salute you.

Kevin Gosa, seersucker skeptic, was absolutely right on one point: Seersucker is not for everybody and should be worn with integrity. It is for authentic, well-dressed, secure, comfortable and cool men and women. And there appear to be more of them than ever. Seersucker is no longer the exclusive fashion domain of Southern lawyers, judges, bankers and businessmen. The fabric is now being embraced by young and old, male and female, and north and south of the sweet tea line.

Bill Haltom | 185

Youthful women’s lines such as Juicy Couture, Anthropologie and Shoshanna have in recent years introduced lines of seersucker sundresses, shorts and even bikinis! Pick up a Vineyard Vines catalog and you’ll see seersucker separates for men and women. Similar lines have been introduced by Lacrosse and Banana Republic. Seersucker Socials are taking place from Maine to Mississippi, Southern California to South Carolina, and Washington State to Washington, D.C. At these events you will see young men wearing seersucker jackets with blue jeans and women wearing seersucker frocks. You can find seersucker backpacks, seersucker ties and even seersucker swimsuits, harkening back to Joseph Haspel’s inaugural seersucker swim in the Atlantic Ocean. And the future of seersucker is bold and vibrant as the fabric is no longer confined to the classic blue and white puckered stripes. In one respect, the future of seersucker is brighter and cooler than ever. And in another respect, it is darker and warmer. The Haspel line now features more than a dozen colors, including green and pink and tan, and even purple and white stripes for Mardi Gras.

186 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

But Haspel also offers a seersucker line sans stripes in single darker colors such as navy and gray. Haspel even offers a heavier weight seersucker sports jacket or suit that can be worn in the fall or winter, making seersucker truly a fabric for all seasons. A darker and weightier seersucker line is now also offered by New York-based Bonobos, and Club Monaco. Brooks Brothers has even offered a limited edition black seersucker tuxedo. And in his 2016 summer line, the always innovative Sid Mashburn is unveiling a fabulous gingham check seersucker in brown and cream and navy and cream. But the best place to see the future of seersucker is the YMCA Conference on National Affairs held each summer at the Blue Ridge Assembly in Black Mountain, North Carolina. This program brings together outstanding high school students from across America to learn more about our democratic form of government and to engage in intensive discussion and debate regarding the issues that face our great nation. It is literally a mountaintop experience for the future leaders of our country, and atop that mountain is a clear view of seersucker. A highlight of the conference is Seersucker Tuesday. On this annual day, these students prove they are not only smart but smartly-dressed

Bill Haltom | 187

The future of seersucker is in good hands. Credit: Haspel

188 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

as they don their finest striped suits, dresses, trousers and bow ties. And when you see these immaculately dressed-for-success young men and women, you feel very good about the future of our nation. No doubt about it, the future is clad in seersucker. To borrow a line from that well-dressed Southern gentlemen, William Faulkner, seersucker “will not merely endure; it will prevail.�

Bill Haltom | 189

why seersucker matters In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Polonius observes that “the apparel oft proclaims the man.” The post-Elizabethan translation is, “Clothes make the man — and woman.” Mark Twain later affirmed this, adding, “Naked people have little or no influence in society.” No doubt about it, ever since Adam and Eve started sewing fig leaves together, clothes have been more than covers. They are expressions of who we are and the many and varied roles we play in life. Some clothes are made for work, while others are made for play. Some clothes are made for comfort, while others are made as elegant attire.

Bill Haltom | 191

There are clothes for corporate board meetings, and clothes for cocktail parties and backyard cookouts. There are clothes for church, clothes for school, and clothes for working in the garden. There are clothes to wear when it’s time to get down to business, and clothes to wear when it’s time to have fun. And here’s the extraordinary essence of seersucker: you can wear it on any of those occasions, and it is always a perfect fit. If you are the chairman or chairwoman of the board, you will wow the directors and shareholders when you walk in the annual meeting in your finest seersucker suit. If you are hosting a dinner party, your guests will compliment you when you greet them wearing the puckered cotton classic. You can wear it when you play golf or tennis, attend ball

192 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

games and, as seersucker’s inventor Joseph Haspel demonstrated, you can even wear it when you swim. You can wear your seersucker to every important event in your life – baptisms, birthday parties, bar mitzvahs, proms, graduations, job interviews, rehearsal dinners, weddings and honeymoons. Atlanta designer and retailer Sid Mashburn says of seersucker, “I’d wear it anywhere except a funeral.” And some folks would disagree and say it’s perfect for a funeral, as seersucker is a celebration of a well-lived and full life. It’s an incredible combination of style, comfort and fun. As Laurie Haspel Aronson has observed, “Seersucker is a whole feeling and attitude … being fun, being comfortable in your clothes, not being taken too seriously … always looking put-together … always looking effortless. Just put it on and you

Bill Haltom | 193

will look good in that suit … You are who you are, but wearing that suit makes your attitude come out.” No, seersucker is not for everybody. It’s just for the confident, well-dressed man or woman who enjoys life in every role she or he plays. It is indeed milk and sugar, the perfect combination to wear whether you are sipping sweet tea while sitting in your front porch swing, a café au lait at Café Du Monde in New Orleans, or a mint julip at the Kentucky Derby. So wear seersucker with pride. Wear it with confidence. Wear it with comfort. And wear it with an attitude … an attitude of fun.

194 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

acknowledgments So how did my love for seersucker become a book? It was due to the inspiration and support of many seersuckerclad friends.

The material for the book – literally, seersucker –

came from the Haspel family, and the fashion statements contained herein would never have happened without the incredible support of Laurie Haspel Aronson.

All my life, I’ve known that seersucker was special,

but it was G. Bruce Boyer who explained its magic to me.

Neil White is the creative force who tailored my

seersucker stories into a wonderfully suitable literary wardrobe.

196 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

Robert Hicks and Roger Ogden throw two of the

best seersucker parties in America, and they generously let me join their celebrations.

Sid Mashburn, a man who is actually on the

cutting edge of fashion, helped me understand the new look for seersucker and its attraction to a new generation, although he did not persuade me to quit wearing socks.

America’s best dressed statesman, former Senator

Trent Lott, shared with me the wonderful story of Seersucker Thursday in Washington and how it produced the federal government’s last balanced budget.

In writing this book, I have had the

Bill Haltom | 197

encouragement and support of so many dear friends including Pam Reeves and Charles Swanson, Kim and Judy Johnson, Dawn LaFon, Roy and Nancy Herron, Lucian Pera and Jane Van Deren, Nick McCall, Sam Blair, Loretta Harber, Sarah Sheppeard, Ben Alford, Sharon Lee, Suzanne Robertson, John Ryder, Buck Lewis, Chris Vescovo, Sam Elliott, and my LaBaguette brothers (you know who you are) to whom this book is dedicated.

Thanks also to my colleagues at the law firm of

Lewis Thomason, particularly Lisa Cole and Mike Keeney, for once again allowing me to devote hundreds of nonbillable hours in writing a document that will never be mistaken for a legal brief.

Thanks to my wonderful personal assistant, Sandy

198 | Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker

White, who has taken my words and put them on paper.

Thanks to my children – Will, Ken and Margaret

Grace – who have joined me over the years in wearing seersucker on Easter Sunday.

And finally, as always, my heartfelt thanks to the

love of my life, Claudia Swafford Haltom, who looks gorgeous in seersucker, and because love is blind, thinks I do, too.

Bill Haltom | 199

Bill Haltom lives, writes, practices law, and wears seersucker in Memphis. This is his sixth book.

Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.