Picture a seersucker suit and you might imagine a couple of ‘gee whiz’ preppies in Gatsby stripes and Brylcreem. Which is fair enough. However, the puckered, lightweight fabric has evolved far beyond its origins as a menswear cloth.
From its colonial Indian roots (it started out as a woven silk; the name comes from the Persian phrase ‘shir o shekar’, meaning milk and sugar, which describes its smooth-meets-rough surface), it was adopted and adapted in cotton by southern American merchants seeking easy-wear suiting. Ideal for humid climates, the seersucker suit was born – affordable, lightweight, cool and travel-friendly. By the 1940s, American servicewomen had cottoned on (pun intended). Soon, candy-striped seersucker uniforms were also sported by nurses and hospital volunteers during the second world war.
So far, so utilitarian, but modern-day seersucker is a refined world away from those quotidian beginnings. Today’s seersucker and its waffled weave creates pockets of air beneath the surface of the fabric, making it adaptable across seasons, climates and sartorial situations and thus perfect for our 24/7 global lifestyles.
And it’s no longer limited to menswear. At Jigsaw, for whom fabric is often the jumping off point for a collection, it is something of a hero cloth this season. In cotton or innovative silk-wool mixtures, Jigsaw’s seersuckers lend themselves to multiple styles and silhouettes. “We often start with fabric. We will look for beautiful tailoring wools, we’ll look for merinos, we’ll always want to find the perfect linen and new silk textures,” says Shailina Parti, Jigsaw’s buying and merchandising director, of her fabric sourcing approach. “Seersucker was an important one for us as it has a subtle texture that gives it a reason to be different, without being overt.”
For spring, the womenswear seersucker pieces of note include a gamine pure cotton shell top, featherweight silk-wool suiting and a silk-cotton tunic with an abstract butterfly print by artist Marcus James. The challenge put to the mills was to take what we know as seersucker – the familiar shirts, easy dresses, casual tops that are a no-brainer with jeans – but make it a more luxurious proposition.
“Unlike other brands who may use a Chinese or Indian cotton seersucker, we’ve gone to Italy and developed it in a much more luxurious way,” says Parti. “So we gave our key Italian mills the task of coming up with seersuckers that combine silk and wool.”
The result is the effortless trouser suits in contemporary gender-neutral shades of khaki and chambray blue, that can be split into separates, worn with a pressed T-shirt or fine-gauge merino knit and thrown in a suitcase at a moment’s notice. In particular, the mélange seersucker weaves two different yarns together
for a beautifully luxe effect with a nuanced depth of colour. The silk and wool tailoring has a tactile handle with a softer drape than one would expect. Be assured, this is not your grandfather’s seersucker.
By Navaz Batliwalla