In September 1746, the British succumbed to a French attack on Madras (now Chennai) as part of a larger struggle for the control of India. But the Battle Of Madras is notable less for its strategic importance than for the fame it bestowed on Robert Clive, a brave and enterprising young clerk who was a buyer (in today’s retail parlance) for the East India Company.
Imprisoned by the French, Clive led the escape of a small group of inmates by disguising themselves as natives and fleeing to Fort St. David. Clive enlisted, eventually rising to the rank of major-general, the French were defeated, and Clive’s leadership became key to East India Company’s domination of a huge swath of territory resulting in the establishment of the British Raj.
Whatever view of history one takes, it’s hard to dispute that without the meeting (clash?) of cultures in British India we wouldn’t have that most cherished lightweight fabric that takes its name from the city that Clive fled 269 years ago, and in honor of the longstanding connection between madras the fabric, Madras the city, and the month of September — not to mention that it’s still damned hot outside — I intend to keep my summery madras clothing in rotation for the foreseeable future.
We’re all eager to pull out our tweed jackets, but for me, in this still-warm weather, when I see models on retail websites sporting their wintery (not even autumn) outfits, I feel my madras shirt begin to dampen with sweat. Companies have to stay ahead of the curve, so I don’t begrudge them for advertising F/W clothes while it’s still warm, but I’ve already seen guys walking around the streets with wool sweaters on 90-degree days. Talk about being fashion forward. On the other, more offensive extreme, some fellows wear shorts and t-shirts for the entire year, no matter how cold it gets. That’s worse, but that’s not me and that’s not the readers here, thank heaven.
As an act of rebellion against a sloppy world, I can respect the impulse to button down, tie on, and don a tweed jacket once Labor Day passes by. Not sure how sane that impulse is, but OK. I’d argue that in 2015 it’s as much an act of rebellion to wear a madras buttondown tucked in, yet still remain comfortable in warm, early-fall weather.
Unlike Robert Clive, I won’t be disguising myself in native dress (meaning, of course, shorts and t-shirt) to escape the September heat. In the interim period between seersucker season (I have, however, begun to pack my seersucker away — I’m no anarchist) and wool weather, I’m planning to rely on more subdued madras shirts in autumnal colors such as orange and yellow, reflecting the changing foliage but avoiding the heat exhaustion.
When it gets slightly cooler, oxford cloth can make its appearance. As for tweed jackets? See you in October. Maybe. — DANIEL C. GREENWOOD
Top image, Bill Murray in “Moonrise Kingdom”
Bottom image, Robert Clive
Well, now I’m ashamed of not wearing Madras shorts today like I really wanted to…
What are the readers thoughts on White Bucks, and Madras year round in the tropics? In South Florida, it’s Madras season year round IMO.
Tis the season for silk-linen “tweed”–occasionally with a bit of worsted in the blend. W. Bill’s closeout/clearance sale included yards upon yards of the stuff. Great herringbones and glen checks. I gobbled it up. Around 8 oz.
I wore a solid navy madras blazer yesterday. Also the right time for a black watch madras jacket.
It’s about time someone wrote about this. Madras is plaid without the weight, and therefore perfect for these stubborn last days of Summer.
My view is to dress for the weather you are encountering. If you live in Phoenix or Puerto Rico, you are not going to wear overcoats and turtlenecks when it’s 84′ in January. You hopefully will be wearing your white bucks, shorts and Madras.
i do like to put away my madras jacket and madras pants along with the linen and seersucker. I’m not a huge madras shirt guy, since I tend to stick to solid or simple pattern shirts. It’s not such a burden for me to stick to poplin and tropical wool for a few weeks until the weather catches up with the calendar.
But then again, I’m a lawyer, so I have a special place in my heart for bright line rules.
You can never go wrong in donning the lightweight, warm-hued
mantle that has come to personify the classical uniform of summertime American leisure. The effect is timeless, even as numerous generations have taken pleasure in the sultry, golden pursuits of summer, gilded by the ubiquitous gin and tonic in-hand. Heed not the calendar, let only the mercury of the thermometer be your guide.
I spent the holiday weekend at the US Open in NYC and watched great tennis. I must say, though, given the oppressive heat and humidity, the trad clothing I and others wore didn’t stand up very well. Even the madras was soaked with sweat after an hour sitting in what surely was 100-degree-plus, blazing sunlight. We couldn’t wait for the sun to dip lower and invite somewhat cooler temperatures.
Clearly, the worst of shirts were cotton polos. Even in sun-reflecting white, the fabric became laden with moisture. The madras was a little better, but frankly not by much. I envied the folks wearing “Clima-cool” polos and tees. Moisture doesn’t wick into that fabric, but instead evaporates off, keeping the wearer cooler.
One fellow dressed in khaki shorts, a long-sleeve oxford shirt and Guccis (without socks, of course) looked positively pathetic. Shirt untucked, open-buttoned at the chest, and soaked throughout, he certainly didn’t reflect a “sharp-dressed man.” I was immediately behind him as we walked up into the stands. I could hear his bare feet squishing against the lined horse bits, stained with sweat, as he made his way to his seat. Watching him made me even more uncomfortable.
I have to wonder, would Ivy Style have adopted “Clima-cool” had it been available in the 1950s? Fleece is worn by many trads today, despite the fact is it largely made from recycled plastic. Could the style have adapted to “space-age” fabrics that really do offer the wearer a benefit? Can it adapt now or is adherence to tradition just too controlling an influence? Maybe there is hope, as I see Lacoste has many offerings in the Clima-cool fabric, but then, that’s a French company, not English.
not a fan of the madras trousers, you’re reading your newspaper on a lovely bench thou, and wearing a great watch,
What a great and memorable column, MF. Thanks.
Very nice post by DCG. Except when visiting the tropics, New Orleans, Florida, or similar climes, I tend to stick with the Labor Day cutoff for both madras and seersucker. Silk-linen-wool-blend summer tweeds as recommended by S.E. and tropical weight wool are good this time of year. I have worn a lightweight wool suit every day this week*, and never felt oppressed by the heat, but then I spent the majority of my time working indoors. If I were mowing the lawn, sitting on a beach or otherwise occupied, I would need to rethink my options.
*A different suit each day, that is, not the same one.
My first thought was that of Frank Sinatra singing Indian Summer with the Dorsey band. Then it turned dark. “In the English translation of Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago, the term [Indian Summer] is used to describe the unseasonably warm weather leading up to the Great October Socialist Revolution.” Kyrie eleison.
@ Hardbopper – Growing up, I was taught that Indian Summer is an unseasonably warm spell in Autumn that occurs AFTER the first killing frost.
Hope you all are well! I’ve stayed true to my principles and keep that madras around as long as needed.
I’ve put the bright colored madras away, but I’ve kept a couple of the darker ones in the September rotation.
Yes, in the North Indian summer occurs when you have a warm spell after the first frost. Some parts of the country then never experience it.before there is a freeze. Tonight I am going to dinner outside on the Upper West Side wearing a blazer and heavy long sleeve shirt and corduroys with a sweater along in a canvas ice bag. Supposed to go into the 50’s later. Some Upper East Side protesters/rioters college age of privilege plan to attack outside old diners of white privilege in the area. Who knows what awaits.
Vern – My wife and I plan to eat outdoors at a restaurant tonight as well, and I am thinking of changing into something warm for the occasion. Unfortunately most of my winter clothing is still in storage, but I have a tweed sport coat and some mid-weight gabardine trousers that should serve. Hopefully neither of us will encounter any Antifa folks. A friend’s restaurant in Washington was destroyed a few weeks ago by rioters protesting his “rich” customers, but so far I believe that Charlottesville and environs have been spared.
The Millennial Fogey lives!
I have retired my madras and seersucker for the year but not the poplin, although the temperatures would certainly justify wearing both.
Magee recently wove a 300 g Shetland tweed. Perfect for an evening in the 50s. When others wear polar fleece, trads wear tweed. And cords.
As for madras: I’d like to find some good solid white and solid blue madras for summer button-downs.
Forget what the calendar suggests and respond to what the weather demands.
I have a muted madras shirt that I bought from Rugby RL years ago which perfectly fits the transitional description. It’s a good idea but for some reason I like putting things away at specific times in an effort to make it more anticipating to take them back out again the following year. I do keep the “summer bins” nearby however considering my family’s home in Florida, but in general, linen, whites, madras, and seersucker are for between Memorial and Labor Day, Autumnal-Colored shirts and what have you are for September through Thanksgiving, Christmas red and greens are from Black Friday to January 6th (just like the tree and lights), and spring pastels in regular-weight fabrics start sometime around Easter.