“If you’re going to wear madras, you don’t want to wear something that looks like your grandfather’s,” said Thom Browne. ”Actually, your grandfather’s madras would be cool,” he amended. ”It’s your father’s that you don’t want.”
”Preppy looks so cool when it looks effortless,” Mr. Browne said, ”but when it looks contrived, there’s nothing worse.”
After Six formal jacket and taffeta bow tie & Palm Beach madras patchwork (in)formal suit –from GQ magazine, 1973 (Image via Black Tie Guide)
Actor and film critic Rex Reed relaxes in a wicker chair on Great Harbour Cay, in the Bahamas. Photo by the legendary photographer Slim Aarons, 1973.
Madras is no shrinking violet, to be sure, but its appeal is undeniable. It is lightweight, breathable and easy to care for, as it has a certain chic even (or especially) when rumpled. It has style and color but not too much of either, a welcome note in a world where there is often little middle ground between bland khakis and designer statement garb. It has history, born in colonial India, a marriage of Scottish tartans and traditional Madras cottons, and popularized in the United States in the 1930’s by the Hathaway Shirt Company.
And the fact that true Indian madras, which is made with vegetable dyes that bleed, fades over time gives it that special thing people like better on their clothes than on themselves: patina. (In the 1930’s, when customers began returning faded shirts, the adman David Ogilvy came up with a campaign proclaiming the bleeding a virtue that made the shirts ”dustily well-bred.”) Today, not all madras bleeds, and not all of it is made in the Madras region of India. Still, the Ogilvy legend lives on — and the slickest techno-fabric can’t touch it.