On a summer morning in 1946, while attending a convention in Florida, Joseph Haspel Sr. donned one his company’s signature seersucker suits and waded out into the Atlantic Ocean, all the way up to his neck. As stunned beachgoers watched on, Mr. Haspel reappeared on shore, soaked to the stripes, and returned to his hotel room, where he hung up the suit to dry. Just a few hours later he resurfaced at a banquet in that he very same outfit, causing quite a stir amongst the attendees.
Founded in New Orleans in 1909, Haspel was one of the first brands to utilize cotton and seersucker for their tailored collections, forgoing the standard mohair and wool fabrics that were far too cumbersome for the heat of a southern summer. Sr.’s seaside stunt was in line with the brand’s unorthodox approach to summerweight suits, and it was the initial step in Haspel’s evolution towards the wash and wear suit.
The wash and wear suit, which blended man-made and natural fibers, was officially introduced by the brand in the fifties and became a cornerstone of Haspel’s collections for decades to come. Around this time, Dupont, the American chemical company, introduced a suit of their own made from Dacron (which for all intents and purposes is a fancy name for polyester) which had been worn for sixty-seven days without being pressed, yet still looked remarkably sharp. Other brands soon followed suit, and before long wash and wear was everywhere.
While the notion that you could wash, tumble dry, and hand iron a suit was radical for that day (and truly still is), the real benefit of the wash and wear suit was in its look. That slightly worn-in, perfectly imperfect look became a summertime smash throughout the fifties, sixties, and seventies. For men of this era the suit was still a necessity, no matter how balmy the weather, and the wash and wear suit, with it’s comfortable feel and breathable construction was a godsend from July to September. Sadly though, as men began to shed their suits, particularly in those muggier months, the wash and wear suit was shown the door.
Recently though, as the more casual looking suit has experienced a comeback, wash and wear has also stepped back into the summertime spotlight. Coinciding with that Haspel has reemerged under the guidance of Shipley & Halmos, which has only furthered the easy wearing renaissance. Just be careful not to leave it in the dryer for too long, it would be a shame to turn that wash and wear suit into an accidental Thom Browne two piece.