The Kentucky Derby sartorial seersucker suit

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March 11th, 2020

Editor's Note: Byroad to the Kentucky Derby examines history and culture, and their ties to Americana. Weekly installments focus on how the Kentucky Derby crosses the threads of time. This week’s feature focuses on Derby fashion.

While extravagant derby hats are a hallmark of feminine Derby fashion, the gentlemen have sartorial traditions too. The posh pucker of seersucker remains a timeless trend for men wishing to look dapper on the first Saturday in May.

The word “seersucker” blends the Persian words for milk and sugar. The British Colonial East Indies brought the material to America, and it was first used in work clothes. The lightweight, ribbed fabric keeps wearers cool, so it is a natural fit for the South. New Orleans tailor Joseph Haspel created the first suit from the cloth in 1909. Since then, the company has helped the seersucker suit become prevalent throughout New Orleans, Mobile, the Kentucky Derby, and beyond.  

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Kentucky Derby men's fashion

Haspel executive vice president Will Swillie said the company has worked with hundreds of Run for the Roses attendees and has partnered with Rodes, a specialty store in Louisville.

“The Derby provides one of our biggest selling opportunities for the season, but there are many more, as well," Swillie said. "There are countless seersucker events and parties all over the country. Believe me, seersucker is not just for the South!”

Joseph Haspel Jr. fitted Gregory Peck for his three-piece suit he wore in the courtroom scene in "To Kill a Mockingbird." In the Derby world, Haspel dressed Jeff Bridges in 2017, when he gave the traditional “riders up” call, which signals the jockeys to mount their horses, and was part of the television coverage for the start of the race. Fashion icon and horse racing ambassador Carson Kressley has worn Haspel on the Derby red carpet.

What fashion trends should men consider for the 2020 Derby?

“Color, color, color,” Swillie said. “We have seen a trend to colors, like green and lavender. Light blue is the traditional color of seersucker, so it is nice to see guys stepping out.”

Brooks Brothers helped spread the textile in the North in the 1930s, and today Giorgio Armani offers seersucker in its summer collections. Vineyard Vines has partnered with the Kentucky Derby for a decade, and Jamie Foxx is among the men who have worn their stripes on the first Saturday in May. Not just for gentlemen, Vineyard Vines is among the outfitters dressing women in seersucker too.