Summer in the American South is not for the faint of heart. The air is so heavy it moves slower than molasses, the mosquitoes are monstrous, and the air conditioning is never cool enough to keep your legs from sticking to a seat. Yet despite the horrific humidity, there is nothing quite like a Southern summer. Peach cobbler, ice cold sweet tea, and lounging poolside in the shade can make any sweltering day feel breezy.
Hot summers have been hitting this region of the U.S. since well before air conditioning existed, but Southerners managed to keep their cool. Houses and other buildings were made with the temperatures in mind, from their covered front porches and tall windows to interior courtyards. A long-standing tradition along the Mississippi River, especially in New Orleans, is the practice of summer dress, which is more than wearing linen and seersucker — it includes the dressing of the homes, as well.
The practice of summer dress was common in the wealthier homes of New Orleans and was intended to protect furniture from heat, odor, and insects while keeping the space light for cooler air flow. This means curtains were replaced with lace or linen, and thick carpets were rolled up in favor of mats made of woven grass. Upholstered furniture was covered in muslin while beds were covered in netting to protect from insects.
Today in New Orleans, at the International House Hotel, the practice of summer dress is continued in a modern way as the days become warmer. International House first took on its name as the original World Trade Center in 1943, and it operated as the founding member of the World Trade Centers Association for more than 50 years. In 1998, the Beaux-Arts-style building was converted into the first boutique hotel in New Orleans. Travel Enzine sent photographer Rush Jagoe to capture the essence of summer dress and commitment to tradition in the historic hotel lobby.
One morning in May or June, you may wake up to a new, lighter look and feel in the lobby.
At the start of summer, the staff prepare the lobby overnight by swapping the rugs for thinner sisal ones and covering the red velvet upholstery in white linen.
Wintry branches are replaced with tropical palms and native banana leaves.
Friendly staff welcome guests while sporting seersucker vests and white pants instead of black wool suits.
At the LOA bar, you’ll find thirst-quenching cocktails made with locally sourced ingredients and crafted by Alan Walter, the hotel's official "spirit handler.”
You can also experience summer dress in its original New Orleans form by touring the Gallier House, a 19th-century French Quarter townhome, through Sept. 3, 2019.
On Aug. 3, the 25th Annual Hancock Whitney White Linen Night party will take over downtown New Orleans. This is the party where summer dress becomes more literal as attendees wear white linen ensembles to gallery hop, shop, eat, and drink while supporting the Arts District and Contemporary Arts Center.