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Seersucker Suits Make a Comeback

Cooling fabric once favored by US lawmakers is back in fashion

Seersucker, the popular lightweight cotton suit once favored by American senators and congressman, is enjoying a comeback.
Seersucker, the popular lightweight cotton suit once favored by American senators and congressman, is enjoying a comeback.

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Mana Rabiee

Irfan Baytok has been making custom suits for some of the wealthiest and most powerful men in Washington since 1970.

Today, Baytok is making a summer suit for a young law student from the southern state of Georgia, where it stays warm for much of the year.  He's using a cool cotton fabric called seersucker, which the British adopted from India nearly 300 years ago.

"It's very light and it doesn't wrinkle and just very convenient fabric," says Irfan Baytok of Baytok Bespoke Tailoring.

Seersucker was originally known by its ancient Hindi and Persian name "Shiroshekar" or "milk and sugar."

Supposedly, the smooth white fabric resembled the surface of milk and the rough stripes had the bumpy texture of sugar.  While the British may have perfected the "Shiroshekar" fabric, Baytok says it was the Americans who made the Seersucker suit famous.

"During the summer, a seersucker suit is very preppy and comfortable," says Baytok. "Because of the heat and humidity in this town, makes the seersucker fabric is favorite for the people".

For these modern-day members of Congress, "Seersucker Day"  is merely a bit of nostalgia.  But it harks back to the early 1900's, when the lightweight fabric was popular among Washington lawmakers who wanted to stay cool and dry during the city's hot and humid summers.

Eventually, the seersucker suit became mandatory summer attire for Southern gentlemen. Seersucker lost its popularity when air conditioning made Washington's climate more tolerable, but it's still considered a mark of elegance today.  

Dr. Omidvar - who prefers not to use his full name -  is mostly retired now but he was a Republican lobbyist for many years. His office was next to the Willard Hotel in Washington where he met with high-powered lawmakers, often while dressed in one of his many seersucker suits.

"It can get you noticed. And it's actually to fit into the culture of the house, the senate, the politician's circles," says Omidvar. "You become like one of them, a part of the crowd".

Omidvar bought his first seersucker to attend an event for President Ronald Reagan in the 1980's. It cost $900, an enormous sum back then. But today, even young people without much money can afford their own seersuckers. The fabric is making a comeback and a jacket can be bought online for as little as $60. A Seersucker Social held in Washington earlier this summer is an example of its newfound popularity.

Washington tailor Irfan Baytok will charge a young law student from Georgia more than $2,800 for this seersucker suit he is making.
Washington tailor Irfan Baytok will charge a young law student from Georgia more than $2,800 for this seersucker suit he is making.

The custom suit Baytok is making will cost the young gentleman from Georgia more than $2,800. But Baytok does not mind that this once-exclusive fashion statement from the American South is now available to everyone.

"So someone can buy it for $49.50 suit and wear it. That's great, why not?" says Baytok. "It's not going to be exactly the one I'm making (it'll) be different, but as long as it makes them happy. That's important".

Baytok says few people custom order seersucker suits these days. The fabric is just too cheap now to justify the labor costs of a tailor. But its low cost may be part of the reason why it's enjoying a renaissance in Washington social circles.

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