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Wrinkles in Time

From sober suiting to Southern charm, few fabrics have enjoyed such regular makeovers as seersucker.

The word seersucker is believed to be Persian (it also appears in Urdu): a combination, etymologically speaking, of “milk” (shir) and “sugar” (shakar). The anglicised form used widely today, however, is closest to the Hindi word sirsakar, a variant that arose at the time of the British Raj, when the fabric was a popular choice for the sub-continental climate. All describe the look and feel of a material with a puckered texture that simultaneously represents the rough, granular nature of sugar and the liquid smoothness of milk.

Seersucker’s warm-weather credentials stem from its ingenious functionality. During the weaving process, a significant number of fibres become raised on the face of the fabric. When worn, this effectively lifts the fabric, reducing the area in contact with the skin; air is then able to pass through, releasing body heat. Seersucker’s characteristic wrinkled appearance is created by fibres additionally bunching together. As well as providing in-built stretch, this also makes seersucker the perfect travel companion. You don’t need to iron it because, frankly, the entire point is to look stylishly dishevelled.

This is precisely where Thomas Pink’s Tailored Fit Smart Casual Striped Seersucker shirt comes in. The ideal piece for your holiday wardrobe, it is a timely arrival for those departing to sunny destinations. It packs easily and is ready to wear straight from your luggage thanks to its 100 per cent cotton fabric, woven in Italy. Available in our Tailored Fit and in three pastel shades, it makes a dashing choice for a summer wedding and a season of events.

Seersucker’s reputation as a summer classic has evolved over time. Historically, it was workwear designed for manual labour. Nondescript and functional, it was known as “railroad stripe” in the latter 19th century, decking out engineers and firemen on the burgeoning network that crisscrossed North America, from Boston to Sacramento.

A key date in seersucker’s march to formal respectability was 1909. That was the year a US tailor in New Orleans, Joseph Haspel, began turning out high-end seersucker suits. Working to the same laws of thermodynamics that benefited railroad employees, Haspel’s intervention meant that, in addition to the British in India, “smart” seersucker became synonymous with America’s deep south, a region of extreme humidity. By the mid-20th century, seersucker had fully entered the mainstream US market and, in the 1950s, became synonymous with preppy, Ivy League types. In fact, so entwined did seersucker become with conventional US mores – suburban, collegiate, political – that it is today celebrated in the US Senate. In 1996, Trent Lott, then senator for Mississippi, introduced a National Seersucker Day. Held on a Thursday every June, where senators are invited to wear seersucker on the floor of Congress (participation is notably high among those from southern states). And in 1962, Gregory Peck cemented seersucker’s deep south provenance when his character, Atticus Finch, wore a seersucker suit in the film adaptation of Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Decades later, this versatile fabric remains one of enduring style and substance.