May is for Madras

madras spring proper cloth

I’ll be honest, spring is probably my least favorite season. First, it means that we’re still half of a sun orbit from autumn, which is clearly the best one. Spring also lacks the vacation-ness that summer provides, or the cozy, holiday vibes of winter. So yeah, not my favorite. There is one thing that spring does well, though – it’s a great time for wearing madras.

Madras is a colorful checked fabric that hails from Chennai, India. Centuries after European traders introduced the cotton textile to the Western world, madras continues to be popular and is is closely associated with Ivy Prep style. It’s a great spring fabric because although it does just as well in summer, it’s a year round textile that doesn’t necessitate hot weather. Fabrics like linen, on the other hand, can feel out of place unless the weather truly calls for it. These days, you can find many garments made up in madras fabric, but I stick to shirts. Like I said two years ago, madras sportcoats are best left to the advanced players and madras pants are best left to Bill Murray.

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Unsurprisingly, all of my madras shirts come form my preferred custom shirtmaker Proper Cloth. Two of the above – the orangeish one and the red/white/blue one – are cut short in length, making them great for casual wear, untucked over jeans (I strongly believe that the “perfect length” shirt is a myth). The orange/red madras immediately became a favorite, and I wear it frequently under field jackets, leather jackets, or uncovered if the weather permits it. The USA-themed one does well for any time that I’m feeling particularly patriotic during a sunny weekend afternoon, and is often paired with day drinking and food stains. Lastly, the pink madras is cut like a traditional dress shirt, meant to be worn under a blazer. I prefer to go all-Ivy with this one, wearing it with bleach-white chinos, a navy blazer, penny loafers, and a vague sense of snobbery. All feature a large, unfused button down collar to do homage to the fabric’s casual nature and the style that made it well-known.

Unfortunately, Proper Cloth doesn’t seem to have many madras fabrics on hand (I hope they will soon, but who knows). The good news is that most men’s clothiers do – old-school prep staples like O’Connell’sBrooks Brothers, and J. Press generally tend to have a solid collection, and mass-market favorites like GANTLand’s End, and Ralph Lauren often have a good spread as well. Mall brands like J. Crew often have some madras styles as well, but those tiny collars don’t do the shirt justice. Stick with a classic prep style and you’ll be ready for all of the outdoor BBQs this shoulder season has to offer.