When madras season officially opened on Memorial Day, we ran a post showing George HW Bush clad in a madras sportcoat in company that wasn’t exactly wearing the same (can you imagine Obama or Romney doing that in 2012?) Now that July 4th marks our deeper descent into madras, this time we show the fabric in an equally unexpected context: on the backs of British pop stars.
Dexys Midnight Runners are best known to Americans for their 1982 mega-hit “Come On Eileen,” which paired a Celtic folk fiddle with salacious lyrics. But a few years later the band changed its sound and look with the album “Don’t Stand Me Down,” and, very briefly, went Ivy League.
Here’s bandleader Kevin Rowland talking about the new look of radical conformism:
Then, in January 1983 I was walking down Madison Avenue Too-Rye-Ay’d up, dressed in a heavy overcoat with my beret with a feather sticking out of it. I stopped outside Brooks Brothers and saw the clothes we had worn years ago: raised edging on the seams, hook or off-centre vents in the jackets, patch pockets. The jackets were so subtle it was untrue, because at first glance they looked very square.
I kept on looking at the clothes people were wearing as we toured the States that year. In Texas outside a restaurant I saw these two guys. They had parallel pleated trousers on, with plain cap shoes and button-down shirts, short Ivy League haircuts and were standing with their hands in their pockets, which gave their look a shape that made them exactly resemble a couple of well dressed hard-nuts from Harrow in 1969.
I loved the fact that this ultra-conservative look was still going strong in America, and was worn only by squares or people who had to wear it for their work. At that time there didn’t seem to be any British equivalent, until Jeremy Hackett later redefined the British look. At first I bought a pair of Florsheim Imperials (plain caps or GIs) for old time’s sake, but I kept looking at them in wonderment, at their beauty. I would sit in my hotel room at night looking at them. I was dreaming about them. I felt so inspired again. I began to fantasise about wearing lots of Ivy League stuff and looking really clean and crisp.
I knew this look could be great and massively popular. It seemed so opposite of what was happening and yet so 100% right. I was going on stage in America wearing dungarees and an old overcoat, but during the day I was going to the record company and asking for cash so that I could raid Brooks Brothers.
Then, in spring ’83, when I went to my Dad’s 65th birthday party, I wore some of the gear and my sister-in-law said, “You look like an extra from ‘The Graduate.’” I was delighted.
In 1776 we declared our independence from the British “red coats.” The chap above is still wearing one, but at least it’s one of ours.
Happy Fourth of July. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD