The Washington Post

Heavy issues remain, but light attire returns to Congress

Senators wearing seersucker suits pose for a group photo in the Senate Reception Room in the Capitol on Thursday, June 23, 2011. From left are Sens. Thad Cochran, Susan Collins, Mike Lee, Kay Hagan, Amy Klobuchar, Mitch McConnell, Kirsten Gillibrand, Mark Kirk, Lisa Murkowski and Roger Wicker. The third Thursday of June is traditionally called Seersucker Thursday. (Photo By Bill Clark/Roll Call)

The economy is no longer careening toward the edge of a cliff at the hands of Congress. So with that pressure lifted, members can revisit a lighter time — literally.

In June 2012, the Senate shut down a decade and a half tradition of its members donning, on the same day, seersucker suits —  those illustrious pale blue and white puckered cotton numbers that are the summer uniform for certain types of Washingtonians. With so much tension on the Hill, the senators determined it inappropriate to celebrate something so frivolous as fashion.

There’s still a fair share of conflict to go around — Veterans Affairs, Bergdahl exchange and all things Clinton — but one brave member of Congress has stepped up and declared the two-year moratorium over.

Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), taking a break from trying to unseat Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), issued a proclamation last month to designate June 11 as National Seersucker Day. To commemorate, Cassidy organized a group photo shoot in the Capitol after the first series of votes on Wednesday.

The Senate tradition, started in the late 1990s by then-Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), was held on a Thursday, usually the third week in June, in time for Washington’s swamp-like summer weather conditions. It became such a huge part of the fabric of the Senate that the official new members guide includes a section called “Seersucker Thursday,” with a history of the event. No word if the Senate has agreed to bring it back, but Cassidy’s office said senators are welcome to participate in the House’s day.

Lott, who left the Senate in 2007, was devastated when the Senate put an end to Seersucker Day. He told the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, “Some say you don’t want to make it look like the Senate’s being jovial with all these serious things going on. My view is you can’t get serious things done because you don’t have events where you can enjoy each other’s company.”

In 2004, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) bought all 14 female senators seersucker suits, breaking the glass ceiling of a male-dominated celebration. During a Fox News Sunday interview together in 2007, Lott and Feinstein discussed their shared appreciation of the breathable cotton garb.

“We need to loosen up and lighten up. And those outfits are certainly lighter. Right, Dianne? Dianne, by they way, is the one that got — made sure that the women are involved in this, too,” Lott said.

“Everything we do is serious. We never have a chance to laugh at each other. And this was a good opportunity,” she said.

Reached Monday, Lott was busy planning next week’s Seersucker Thursday festivities at Patton Boggs, the law firm where he now works. “If I could give my friends in the Senate one piece of advice, it would be to start Seersucker Thursday again,” he said. “There’s no opportunity to have any fun.”

So now, on this predictably sticky and humid week in June, seersuckers will make their grand return (a quick scan of staffers’ summer attire on Capitol Hill, and you’d wonder if they ever really went away) and besides Lott, no one is more pleased than Haspel, the New Orleans company (brilliant campaign move, Cassidy), who created the seersucker ensemble:

And a quick Twitter search shows how far seersucker has come. It’s not just for Southern gentlemen sipping mint juleps and attending horse races any more.





Colby Itkowitz is the lead anchor of the Inspired Life blog. She previously covered the quirks of national politics and the federal government.

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