Seersucker is a thin, all-cotton fabric, commonly striped, used to make clothing for spring and summer wear. The word came into English from Hindi, which originates from the Persian words "shir o shakar," meaning "milk and sugar", probably from the resemblance of its smooth and rough stripes to the smooth surface of milk and bumpy texture of sugar. Seersucker is woven in such a way that some threads bunch together, giving the fabric a wrinkled appearance in places. This feature causes the fabric to be mostly held away from the skin when worn, facilitating improved heat dissipation and air circulation. It also means that ironing is not necessary.
Muslim traders traded the fabric throughout a wide area. During the British colonial period seersucker was popular as a material in Britain's warm weather colonies. When Seersucker was first introduced in the United States it was used for broad array of clothing items. For suits the material was considered a mainstay of the summer wardrobe of gentlemen, who favored the light fabric in the high heat and humidity of the summer, especially prior to the arrival of air conditioning.
Seersucker is still widely worn. It was used for nurses uniforms in World War II. Seersucker is also mentioned prominently in the Official Preppy Handbook.
The fabric was originally worn by the poor in the U.S. until undergraduate students, in an air of reverse snobbery began to wear the fabric. Damon Runyon wrote that his new habit for wearing seersucker was "causing much confusion among my friends. They cannot decide whether I am broke or just setting a new vogue." When worn in the North, typically the last Monday of May is considered the beginning of the appropriate time for wear. In the South a rule of thumb that it is appropriate to wear between Memorial Day and Labor Day. It is widely considered a fashion faux pas to wear seersucker at the wrong time of the year. Suits are sometimes worn with bow ties.
Common items of clothing made from seersucker include suits, shorts, shirts and robes. The most common colors for it are white and blue; however, it is produced in a wide variety of colors, usually alternating colored stripes and puckered white stripes slightly wider than pinstripes.
Seersucker is made by slack-tension weave. The yarns are wound onto the two warp beams in groups of 10 to 16 for a narrow stripe. The crinkle stripe may have slightly larger yarns to enhance the crinkle. The stripes are always in the warp direction and ongrain. Today, seersucker is produced by a limited number of manufacturers. It is a low-profit, high-cost item because of its slow weaving speed. Seersuckers are made in plain colors, stripes, plaids, checks and prints. Seersucker is used in curtains and summer suiting, dresses, and sportswear.
Seersucker is comfortable and easily washed, and was the choice for the summer service uniforms of the first female United States Marines. The decision was made by Captain Anne A. Lentz, one of the first female officers selected to run the Marine Corps Women's Reserve during the Second World War.
The US Senate recently had Seersucker Thursday.