Saturday, June 9, 2012

Life's Lost Little Luxuries #7: Patched Madras

Vintage madras jacket on Ebay for $1100

"Madras runs amok! Reported missing!" No that headline did not exactly appear in WWD (Women's Wear Daily y'all— the bible of things retail apparel), but look around. Do you see a sea of madras anywhere? Well, you used to. In the era of Villager and Ladybug and Brooks Brothers before there was a woman's department, summer meant madras, patched madras especially.

Although long produced by cotton weavers originally in the city of Madras (now Chennai), India, madras became a staple of the preppy look in the 1960's. Patched madras traditionally consists of 3" squares of various patterns sewn together before the cloth is cut, in fairly random selection but usually in a similar tone, ie. pastels with pastels, brights with brights, blues with blues, etc. Not all patched madras was as gorgeous as the example above, priced high as it is an original 1960s from Chipp, recognized as a pioneer of the preppy look and tailor to President John F. Kennedy. In its heyday, bleeding madras (dyes would run in the wash) was considered superior to the colorfast if only because it required more care so as not to ruin all the laundry.

In my eyes, a boy who wore madras knew what he was doing fashion-wise. If he wore patched madras he could teach me a thing or two. The young men I knew would wear their madras as bermuda shorts. Worn with a collared polo shirt or rumpled button-down, the look spoke Ivy League volumes. Wearing a madras sport shirt was considered geeky, except if it was patched madras. Only old men (over 30) wore the (long) pants. There were other madras items to be had— belts, wallets, bow ties. These wonderful Sperry Top Siders are probably more recent vintage:
You see, madras has never totally gone away. As it so evokes the preppy look, it's always making an appearance in some form. This whole thing started recently when I saw a patched madras blazer in the window of Joseph A. Banks. After checking with my husband his reaction when I said "patched madras blazer", I bought it for him for Father's Day. But trying to comparison shop after the fact found little success, online or in the stores. Where you could barely walk into one without being surrounded, madras is hard to ferret out, patched madras an endangered species. But it still looks so good:

And let's not forget the girls. We've never been able to leave a good menswear trend to the men, so— yes— madras and its patched friends made it onto everything female from barrettes and headbands to purses (where different fabrics could be buttoned on), skirts, shorts, capris, shirtwaists dresses, bathing suits, skimmers— everything with the exception of pajamas. With my head swimming in madras I sought and found a ladies patched madras jacket online, for sale at the 1960s price of $29.95. It's on its way to me from that bastion of all things preppy, L.L. Bean:
No-iron irony in 2012

1 comment:

  1. I love madras! Perhaps it is what it signifies....summer, relaxed, louche afternoons sipping long island iced favourite is my mini from Cape it!