A COOL IMPRESSION Designers are showing updated versions of the classic seersucker suit

Perhaps it's just a coincidence, but we must hark back to the Depression to find a time when the seersucker suit received as much northern exposure as it does today.

Return with us now to those uproarious days of yesteryear: Prices stayed low, but unemployment ran high. It was all the average man could do to keep his chin up and his good suit pressed while the economy crashed all around him.


Some 60 years ago, pretentious Ivy Leaguers and New England country-clubbers were just about the only men who dared to flaunt suits made of seersucker -- the puckered cotton fabric that looks slightly unkempt no matter how much it's pressed. Seersucker suits were cheap -- $15 on average -- and they looked it.

That's why, no matter how hot summers north of the Mason-Dixon line got, no Yankees wore seersucker except those too poor to afford better and those too rich to care. The less affluent men of the North were striving to look employable, so they wore heavier wool suits that held a press no matter what the temperature.


In the 1950s, seersucker became slightly more pressable with the introduction of synthetic fibers, and the fabric made some inroads with men at large. Still, the rumpled all-cotton versions are what carried cachet with the rich, and the new fabric never gained a large following.

All that could change. Prestigious designer labels such as Ralph Lauren, Perry Ellis, Paul Stuart and Bill Robinson are showing updated versions of the all-cotton classic seersucker suit that is "guaranteed to wrinkle." The shoulders are more prominent, and the pants are cuffed, pleated and cut fuller.

Furthermore, European designers such as Dominique Morlotti, Pierre Cardin, Nino Cerruti, Sonya Rykiel, Hermes' Veronique Nichanian and the eminent Giorgio Armani have previewed spring-summer 1993 collections featuring seersucker that's slouchy, sexy, multicolored, biker-styled and nightclubby.

With all the new colors and styles of seersucker from which to choose, it could fast become a fixture in the warm-weather wardrobes of men on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line.

"Seersucker is now considered acceptable attire in many office settings," says Julia Oddy, a spokeswoman for Paul Stuart Clothing in New York.

"I see more seersucker at weddings and parties than anywhere else," she says.

Besides suits, some of the other seersucker items that bear the Paul Stuart label are shorts sets, swimsuits, blazers and sport shirts.

The proprietor of Executive Custom Shirt Makers & Tailors in Birmingham, Mich., Ernest Drucker, makes custom-fit seersucker suits for a select clientele.


He explains to them that it takes a special person to step beyond the tried-and-true lightweight poplins and pin cords into the stylistic uncertainty of boldly striped seersucker.

"You can do beautiful things with seersucker, but there's just such a limited time that a man can wear it," Mr. Drucker says.

"You only have from right now to the end of August; that's about a six- to eight-week grace period when it's appropriate," he says. "After Labor Day, no matter how warm it is, you've got to put it back in the closet."

For customers looking for shirts to wear with a seersucker suit, Mr. Drucker prescribes "anything with enough color to give it a little flair without disturbing the look of the fabric. You wouldn't want a striped shirt with a striped suit."

"Obviously seersucker works well with a crisp white shirt, but it looks great with chambray shirts, too," says Ms. Oddy of Paul Stuart.

"And there are all sorts of updated rep ties, silk knit ties and small patterned ties to choose from, and a bow tie is a natural winner.


"We believe strongly that the suit, the shirt and the tie should balance each other out. Seersucker is such a strong pattern that you don't want to confuse the eye with the shirt and tie that are real strong, too."

Fashion experts generally agree that the appropriate shoes to wear with seersucker are crepe-soled white buckskins. But as seersucker takes on a more modern appearance, deviations are becoming accepted. Brown or blue striped saddle shoes serve as ready options, while tan suedes and even brown leather lace-ups are entering the picture.

Now that prominent designers are adding stylish twists to the basic seersucker suits sold by companies such as Brooks Brothers and Hart Schaffner & Marx, more fashion-conscious men will want them.

Let's just hope that the seersucker's increased visibility won't coincide with the spectacle of men wandering the streets in hordes asking, "Buddy, can you spare a dime?"