Rabalais’ Political History: Don’t Be A Sucker, Wear Seersucker

With the passage of the Easter holiday, seersucker suits and skirts and shorts are again making their routine appearances in the marbled halls of Baton Rouge and Washington, D.C.

Seersucker may be fashionable now, but its history is rooted in the practicality of the fabric. According to reporting from National Public Radio, the traditional blue and white weave draws its name from the Persian words for "milk and sugar,” a homage to color and texture.

In 1909, a New Orleans tailor began making suits out of the lightweight cloth, knowing that it would provide some relief for retail consumers in the oppressive Louisiana heat.

By the 1930s, then-Gov. Huey Long, an ardent campaigner who enjoyed spending his free time out on the road, had adopted seersucker as a wardrobe hallmark. In Huey Long Invades New Orleans, author Gary Boulard writes about how the governor’s suits were often rumpled, sweat-stained and covered with flecks of dirt as he barnstormed rural parishes.

Seersucker grew in popularity, and not only among Louisiana politicians. Since Washington, D.C., always experienced humid summers by virtue of also being built over a swamp, seersucker was a mainstay on Capitol Hill as well.

Historian Robert Dallek writes about John F. Kennedy, as a young congressman, often appearing for floor votes in a rumpled seersucker jacket. According to the Senate Historical Office, air conditioning did not make its way into the U.S. Capitol until the 1950s.

After climate control was added to the Beltway’s most important chambers, seersucker slowly gave way again to black and blue blazers. Down in Louisiana, however, seersucker remained fashionable among politicos during this period, with late Senate President John Hainkel and former Gov. Edwin Edwards often notably sporting the light suits.

Decades later, wanting to return the iconic outfits to Congress, then-U.S. Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi started the tradition of an official seersucker day in 1996. Lott, then the majority leader, told members to wear their seersucker on a particularly hot Thursday in June. When speaking to reporters about why he created “seersucker Thursday,” Lott said that he wanted to show that “the Senate isn’t just a bunch of dour folks wearing dark suits and — in the case of men — red or blue ties.”  

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California started leading the chamber’s female members in observance of “seersucker Thursday” in 2004. The tradition was discontinued by Congress in 2012, but U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy led the efforts to reauthorize the official designation in 2014.

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