WASHINGTON — Congress’ sartorial summer tradition was back in full flamboyance Thursday as senators made a bipartisan effort to look fabulous.
June 11 was National Seersucker Day, which is celebrated on the Hill when senators dress uniformly in seersucker. The tradition was introduced in 1996 by former Senate Majority leader Trent Lott of Mississippi, who wished to mark the beginning of summer with a homage to the days before air conditioning and by wearing the fabric that for decades attenuated the DC heat.
This year, 10 senators congregated outside the Senate Gallery donning the iconic striped lightweight cotton. The group had shrunk remarkably from previous years where as many as 30 senators once sported the fabric, but with half of the majority party running for office, National Seersucker Day was casualty to priority.
Seersucker Thursday is also recovering from a two-year moratorium in 2012-13, when, as reported by The Washington Post, political sectarianism had led to an atmosphere where it was deemed “politically unwise” to engage in levity when stately issues were not being resolved.
Seersucker is a stable of American sartorial legacy. Its etymology reveals the fabric’s 18th century Indian origin, where the neologism, derived from the Persian šir o šakar (milk and sugar), was used to describe the both milky-smooth and sugary-coarse cloth. Seersucker was introduced to America in the early 20th century by Joseph Haspel of New Orleans. Haspel offered the Southern Gentleman vestments fit for his topography, but the fashion since migrated North as it was worn in the Summer along the coasts of New England and on Ivy League Campuses.
Dressing appropriate to the weather has since waned in popularity. Christian Chensvold, syndicated writer and editor in chief of Ivy-style.com, spoke to The Daily Caller about the peculiar modern habit of keeping an immutable wardrobe in a changeable climate.
“The average guy who has to wear a suit to work wears the same ‘three-season’ lightweight wool suit whether it’s January or August,” Chensvold said. “Just as the decline in formality over the past half-century has men looking chronically undressed for the elements during winter, whereas before even poor men had long wool coats, wool hats and gloves — the average suit-wearing schlub is overdressed during summer. Only the small percentage of guys really into clothes break out the seersucker, poplin and linen.
“Those fabrics can look just as professional, are far more logical, are of course are much more comfortable,” Chensvold added.
The senatorial tradition is set to continue, but in a milieu where the President is harangued for wearing a tan suit, deviating from the procrustean navy/grey regime means making a bold statement.