Seersucker may evoke images of patrician idyll, but its origins are decidedly plebeian. In colonial India, where the lightweight silk originated, seersucker—from the Persian phrase shir o shekar, meaning “milk and sugar,” due to its smooth and coarse textures—was a workingman’s fabric. It was reborn in 20th-century America as a durable dimpled cotton for men who worked under hot conditions, such as Standard Oil gas attendants. By the 1930s seersucker had made its way to the Ivy League and was a symbol of reverse snobbery. “I have been wearing coats of the material known as seersucker around New York lately, thereby causing much confusion among my friends,” dapper newspaperman Damon Runyon wrote in 1945. “They cannot decide whether I am broke or just setting a new vogue.” But even Runyon understood that a man wearing a seersucker suit with style would ultimately be considered affluent and could “cash a check with no questions asked.” Today the look is still money.
(This story appears in the 22 July, 2016 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)