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Congress’ annual display of white stripes is upon us–it’s Seersucker Thursday! Perhaps you’re taking part in this revived tradition, or perhaps you’re playing “spot the seersucker” on C-SPAN, or perhaps you’re wondering what seersucker is.

In reverse order:
Seersucker is that rumply white-and-blue (usually, but can be white-and-anything) fabric that makes you think southern or preppy and is a lightweight, cooler fabric for summer suits.

Today is an excellent day to look for seersucker apparel on Capitol Hill, especially on the Senate side of complex. Why, you ask?

Because on “Seersucker Thursday,” a bipartisan caucus of senators makes a point of wearing their suits and getting together for pictures between the day’s usual proceedings. This year’s weather in DC is particularly apropos for the tradition as highs are expected to snuggle up to the 100-degree mark. I wonder, do staffers participate too, or just the members we see in the yearly pictures?

Senators gather for their official Seersucker Caucus pictures in 2011. (AP from The Washington Post)

Trent Lott generally receives the credit for reviving the wearing of the seersucker in the 1990s, but prior to the advent of better air conditioning in the Capitol and Washington in general, members of Congress (and many other Washingtonians) relied on the fabric to provide a degree of comfort through any steamy summer sessions. More reliable HVAC systems in the 1950s brought the demise of the longer summer recess as well as the need to dress more seasonally.

Lott always intended that the seersucker suits would be a lighthearted reminder that “the Senate isn’t just a bunch of dour folks wearing dark suits and—in the case of men—red or blue ties.” Before you get angry about members of Congress wasting time on fashion, remember that a little collegiality can go a long way when the legislative going gets tough.

Opinions about seersucker or the caucus? Are you wearing it today or any day? Leave a note in the comments!

Sources cited:
Traditions of the United States Senate pamphlet by Richard Baker, Senate Historian