The summer’s coolest fabric.
Madras—a stylish way to beat the heat.
Suffering for your style in heavy fabrics—especially during the heat of the summer—just doesn’t cut it. Walking down a sun-drenched street, trying to scuttle to the safety of an awning’s shade like a seagull-spooked crab is no way to live. Luckily, there’s madras. It’s colorful. It looks cool. And it’ll keep you cool. So you can come out of the shadows.
As you might think, madras originated in a hot, humid climate. The town of Chennai in India was called Madras (pronounced muh-drahs) during its British colonial period. The comfortable, breathable fabric became very popular among the British as a stylish way to survive the heat and eventually found its way back to London. It spread from there and the demand for it began to skyrocket.
Madras is a lightweight, usually plaid, 100% cotton fabric. The bold colors associated with the fabric come from the dyes used in manufacturing it. And, like Scotch, where the water used in different regions to produce it affects the taste, the water used in the madras dying process will affect the color of the fabric. Authentic madras is a very unique thing. To determine if what you’re looking at is authentic, be sure it has the same pattern on both sides of the fabric.
You’ll come across two types of madras. The basic type is produced by dying cotton and then weaving it to produce a plaid pattern. The other type is created by taking scraps of the basic woven type—usually 4 or 6 different patterns—and stitching them together to form a patchwork effect. Patchwork came on the scene in the 1960s and really gained in popularity during the 1980s.
You can find madras in practically everything. From shirts and pants, to ties and pocket squares, to shorts and shoes. But before you step out in a head-to-toe madras ensemble, be sure you know the rules for wearing it. First of all, limit yourself to just one piece of madras and use solid colors to set it off. Treat madras as you would go-to-hell pants, because while it doesn’t have the same attitude, too much of it can be overwhelming.
Also, as a general rule, summer fabrics shouldn’t be combined unless you’re a seasoned pro. Use solid cotton pieces with madras. And because the depth and variety of color in madras is so great, you don’t have to stop at navy. Bright colors work equally well. Here are some great words of fashion advice by a madras devotee.
Get into it.
Madras is a great summer fabric because it matches the color and lightheartedness of the season without being too garish. It can be dressed up or down, too, being equally at home out on the golf course or out on the town. Just follow the rules. You don’t want this to happen.
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