Labor Day’s imminent arrival for those of us in the United States signals summer’s inevitable end. Gone are the outdoor parties with friends, the aromas of the stoked grill, and the luminous sun lightly toasting our skin, and soon upon us are months of gloomy weather and the frigid cold. Our wardrobes will change too as we bring out the tweed jackets and shetland sweaters, storing away those lightweight beauties that got us through yet another sweltering season. If you’re in a perpetually warm area as I am, do count your lucky stars because a certain cotton cloth, “madras,” will never be out of season. Alas, this blog isn’t for us – it’s for those who wish to remember the good times, sitting in a sun-drenched park in shorts and a short-sleeve button down without a thought in the world except from where the next icy beer will come. Let us take a moment to bid farewell to that greatest of all warm-weather fabrics, madras.
To pay this humble homage, I want to put into physical memory the madras I’ve worn over the summer. Some pieces I’ve had for awhile now and others were bought within the last few months, but they have all served their purpose tenfold. My most cherished of these are of the bleeding variety, a type that was immensely popular throughout the ’50s and ’60s, particularly on college campuses. With this sort of madras, the more one wore and subsequently washed a piece made from it, the further individualized it became as the colors would literally bleed together, creating an ultimately unique patina.
Here are some close ups of the special “bleeding” labels, all from authentic garments of the aforementioned era:
My most worn madras piece this season is assuredly the oldest I own: a 1950s popover number from “Mark, Fore, Strike,” which I featured in my popover post here. Another I’ve been wearing consistently is a recent purchase: a buttery soft and gossamer weight deadstock madras short-sleeve shirt from “Sero.” While the label doesn’t say so, I’m 100% certain the fabric will bleed after a few washes. What I enjoy most about each is their length – short enough for wear with shorts yet long enough to allow a seamless look with lightweight trousers.
Below are two madras sport coats from the mid-century that are my go-to when a jacket is required. Both feature a sack cut with a 3/2 roll front and completely natural shoulders.
Lastly, here’s a circa ’60s bleeding madras windbreaker that has, for a lack of a better term, been bled to death – I can only imagine the action it’s seen throughout the decades. The hue, which certainly was once vibrant, is now immensely subdued and somewhat drab; though, it still has an alluring patina especially when considering this context. Like all bleeding madras pieces, the very nature of the fabric allows for the creation of an ever-evolving story, spoken through subtly muddled tones and enigmatic colors – if only companies still made them in relative abundance like they once did.
Still, do not fret! The cold may be lurking just out of sight, but that doesn’t mean you can’t stock up for next year (or for the persistent hot spells for those of us in temperate zones). To get some of the genuine bleeding stuff yourself, the least expensive way is obviously vintage. The only problem via this route is the cloth itself – these vintage madras pieces were worn in the pulsating heat, with sweat and dirt and everything else doing their collective damage. When coupled with their wafty nature, many of these old items simply haven’t been able to stand the test of time. Though, it is entirely feasible to discover unblemished bits (even in deadstock form) at thrift stores, but through the online market you’ll notice pretty steep prices for these. It is also possible to get real bleeding madras today, but there are few purveyors who stock it and the pieces are occasionally pricey (for shirts check out Leith Clothing and for sport coats O’Connell’s).
Regardless, let us hold out together and wear madras until the very last moment as the biting cold forces us to do otherwise. And when that times comes, we’ll recall another great summer filled with madras memories.