June 21, 2007— -- Our nation's senators might not be able to come together on immigration or energy, but when it comes to wearing thin, striped, wrinkled-looking suits, there is consensus.
Welcome to Seersucker Thursday, when members of what's often called the "world's most exclusive club" report to work in their finest seersucker outfits.
The annual tradition was born in 1996 when Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., decided that on a Thursday in mid June, senators would come to work wearing the famous seersucker suits, turning a long-time informal tradition into a regular rite of summer.
"It's the first day of summer, and the Senate needs to lighten up and loosen up," said Lott, sporting bright pink socks that accentuate a stripped suit this Seersucker Thursday.
In general, it appears that the seersucker phenomenon is a decidedly Republican one. Although billed as a bipartisan event, only a handful of Democrats came to the Capitol dressed in their seersucker best, among them Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
When asked the origin of the tradition, Feinstein said, "It comes from watching Lott preening on the floor."
The thin fabric that usually has blue-and-white stripes is a signature look in the American South, because of its lightweight feel, making it ideal for the oppressive Southern heat.
"Seersucker is the South's fashion gift to the nation to help cope with the heat and humidity of D.C. summers," said Lott spokesman Nick Simpson.
The history of seersucker dates back to the early 20th century. In the years before air conditioning, Southern senators found Washington summer heat unbearable.
Weighed down by heavy wool coats in the poorly ventilated Senate chamber, the legislators wanted to wear lighter clothes. So, according to Senate historians, in 1907 a New Orleans clothier made their lives more comfortable by designing the lightweight suits with the rumpled fabric.
Another version of the legend claims that seersucker was born when satirist W.O. Saunders walked down New York's Fifth Avenue wearing pajamas in a publicity stunt.
Either way, when modern air conditioning came to the Senate in the 1950s, these suits were no longer necessary, but in 1996, Lott decided it was time to revive the long-forgotten tradition and show that "the Senate isn't just a bunch of dour folks wearing dark suits and -- in the case of the men -- red or blue ties."
In 2004, Feinstein encouraged women to participate by giving seersucker outfits to a number of her female colleagues. "I would watch the men preening in the Senate, and I figured we should give them a little bit of a horse race," she said at the time.
The striped, wrinkled-looking suits may be an unusual look for the nation's Senate (to say nothing of pink socks), but at least senators stayed cool on another hot Washington summer day. Whether they looked cool or not perhaps deserves a motion for further debate.
ABC News' Jordan Hultine contributed to this report.