Seersucker advertisement from 1949
When I tagged along with my mother to my first thrifting experience in New Orleans, she assured me that I would come to appreciate the store (just as she had done when I tagged along to Victoria’s Secret as a boy). I was college-bound, and, despite my early trepidations—thrift stores repulsed me—I walked out with full bags. With my first two seersucker suits and several bow ties, I had gone from protest to pride.
In January 1998, when I left New Orleans for Murfreesboro, Tennessee, I packed my blue and white seersucker along with a slim-fitting charcoal and white one. Starting that August, I learned almost all of my Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity brothers at Middle Tennessee State University hated the suits—one even said I looked like a train conductor.
Despite my friendship with these men, they didn’t excuse me from getting teased. They called my actions “Kasimu being Kasimu”: actions like walking around campus with an umbrella even when it wasn’t raining, which is the Big Easy way to beat the heat, or my stories of celebrity run-ins, which they deemed impossible.
“Dude, it’s not my fault nobody famous ever comes to your little small-ass hometown in Tennessee,” I’d say in frustration. It wasn’t just the seersucker—it was my overall style.
Kevin McKenzie, one of my eight line brothers and also one of the most popular kids at Middle Tennessee, recently said this to me: “The suits that Diddy [Sean Combs] and all them wear now, you wore then. You dared to be different.”
Troy King, Chris Bunch, L. Kasimu Harris (me), Kevin McKenzie, Dennison Bradford III, Kenan Neal, and Randy Parsons, at Middle Tennessee State University, fall 1999.
I never stopped wearing my seersucker. In 2003, Method Man and Redman, two East Coast rappers of international fame, visited New Orleans for an MTV special and wore seersucker suits. Soon afterwards, the guy who called my suit a train-conductor outfit asked where he could buy one for himself.
The Essence Music Festival of 2003, which annually turns “Chocolate City” extra dark, fell on the same weekend as the Fourth of July. I wore my charcoal and white seersucker suit to the festivities with a white T-shirt that had a lone horizontal charcoal stripe across the chest. I was feeling myself. Perhaps that’s why I stepped out of my comfort zone of hard lemonades and coconut rums and ventured into the land of whiskey and Cokes. I didn’t realize it then, but my night ended at a gas station when I bought a pint of Jack and a twenty-ounce Coca-Cola. I poured about fifteen ounces of Coke out: It was the first time I’d ever mixed my own drink. From there, my friends and I made appearances at bars and clubs around the city. I got a new drink and met a new woman at every spot.
Finally, we landed at Club Ambrosia. The DJ hooked me up with a drink, and it glowed as I walked in slow motion. The club-goers thrust, dipped, and spun around on the dance floor as my stomach did the same. I told my boy, Shawn Colin, that I was going to his truck. I napped in the truck bed for about thirty minutes while they partied on.
“Let’s go, bruh,” Shawn said. “Get in the front of the truck.”
“I’m staying back here,” I mumbled.
We drove anyway. Shawn sped through traffic, flew over bridges, and made wide turns during the twenty-mile trip from Eastern New Orleans to my parent’s Mid-City home. I gotta say it: Vomit flew from my mouth onto his truck. We stopped once—at a carwash. Shawn washed and rinsed both the truck and me; I remained in a fetal position as soapy water pelted my body.
Once home, I stumbled inside and woke up my younger nephew, Omar Williams, and, soon, the rest of the house. My mind went black.
My mother said she shrieked as I slept wet and naked on the bathroom floor. She thought I was dead. The balled-up seersucker suit, filled with water and vomit, was next to me.
Omar and my father carried me by hands and feet to my proper bed. I slept for twelve hours and woke to deep, deep embarrassment.
“Don’t you ever do that again. Somebody could’ve done something to you, boy,” my father said, with emphasis. If that brown liquor hadn’t already whooped my ass, his eyes told me that he would’ve.
That afternoon, the cleaners asked what happened in that suit.
“A long night,” I replied.
Even the chemical couldn’t make that seersucker white again. I will never black out again.
I purchased my first new seersucker suit in 2007, as a graduate student at the University of Mississippi. I was exhibiting some photography at a gallery and wore a tan and white seersucker suit, a pink shirt, and white shoes.
Curtis Wilkie, one of my favorite journalism professors at Ole Miss, with me at Southside Gallery in Oxford, Mississippi. Photo by Jenny Anderson.
Later that summer, when I was selected as a photographer for the student projects during the National Association of Black Journalists convention in Las Vegas, I packed my seersucker.
At the final party I saw Roland S. Martin, a television personality I admired because he was an executive editor at The Chicago Defender, the oldest African-American newspaper. I had not met him yet but didn’t feel like repeatedly screaming “L. Ka-see-moo Harris!” over the music, so I continued toward the door. Martin had other ideas. He moved toward me, laughing. I smiled.
He said: “Hey nigga, where the fuck you think you at…the Hamptons?” He and the friend standing with him bent over with laughter. The neurons fired: Was this high school? I just stared at him and walked away.
Now, every time I see him on television, talking to the president or peddling his line of ascots and bow ties, I think the same thing: “Where the fuck you think you at?”
Right now, the only seersucker pieces I own are a blue and white bow tie from The Wild Life Reserve and a red and cream pair of Billy Reid shorts. No adventures of note have occurred in those items of clothing, yet.
Photo by Ride Hamilton
When I return to Middle Tennessee each year for homecoming, I hear things like: “I appreciate how you were strong enough to be you,” and, “You were Kanye West before we knew who Kanye West was.”
Despite what I did to his truck, Shawn and his wife, Wendi, thought enough of me to make me their son’s godfather. Jett is three years old and won’t taste Jack anytime soon.
I’ve had about five art exhibits since 2007 and zero encounters with Roland. I did see him from afar at last year’s Essence Music Fest, however. He was wearing an ascot.
Style on the Spot: Sippin' in Seersucker
Jack Hazard, Alexander Borne, Betsy Hazard, and DaVida Chanel.
Sue Strachan, employee at the Ogden Museum, Christy Lorio, a writer and OA columnist, Missy Wilkinson, fashion editor at Gambit Weekly, and Thomas Fewer, a stubstance abuse coordinator.
Ashley Chipman, filmmaker, wearing a dress by New York–based AKO.
Channel Gauthreaux (right) and her mother, in handmade seersucker dresses.
Ashley Moffett and Ben Azevedo, a medical student and founder of New Orleans Bow Ties, wearing his product in Satsuma Sno-Ball.
DaVida Chanel, an actress, producer, and writer, wearing a dress designed for her by Jerk and Jon.
Lee Peeples in red Louis Vuitton loafers.
Edmond Kee, editor-in-chief of Amelie G Magazine, and his wife, Charlotte.
Dancing to Los Hombres Calientes.