Plaid Scientist: Dissecting Vintage Madras

We draw Madras Week to a close with this finale from Zachary DeLuca of Newton Street Vintage.

One of the advantages to collecting vintage madras is that it provides the opportunity to compare the idiosyncrasies of this unique fabric. Just as no two bolts of madras are completely alike, no two madras jackets are alike.

As a counterpoint to the in-depth historical analysis of Christopher Sharp and the poignant madras-heyday memoirs of Richard Press, I’d like to showcase a few fine “survivors” (to borrow Mr. Press’ term) from my stock to show precisely what those great old advertisements were on about.

First up is a near-deadstock beauty from Langrock, Princeton’s premier campus shop, circa late 1960s or very early 1970s:

Though is has all the hallmarks of Ivy League tailoring, including ultra-soft shoulders, structurally it is more akin to a normal sack sport coat than other earlier madras jackets, which were tailored in a much more unconstructed manner.

As you can see from the top image, the fabric is virtually unfaded. And while it possesses the irregularities in the weave that are a hallmark of hand-woven madras, the cloth from this era has a much softer, more linen-like hand than earlier examples of the fabric.

Now consider this jacket, which has survived in deadstock condition since the late 1950s. Authentic bleeding madras from The Kent Shop of Denver, Colorado, of all places. Not exactly what comes to mind as a hotbed of warm-weather attire, but it illustrates the widespread popularity of the cloth during its heyday.

The jacket is almost completely unstructured, with zero shoulder padding and minimal lining:

Note the absence of felt behind the collar, which has been attached to the body of the jacket by hand:

What is most striking about this piece, however, is the shoulder, which seems almost Italian in its construction.  Though there is absolutely no padding, there is a very subtle roping at the sleeve head and some slight puckering at the sleeve cap that is consistent with Italian spalla camicia construction:

But lest this last detail calls into question the coat’s Ivy League pedigree (very old Brooks Brothers jackets have a similar detail at the sleevehead), let the jacket’s lapped back seam and hooked vent reassure you:

In closing, I will not attempt to surpass Mr. Press’s eloquent call-to-arms for a renaissance of authentic tailored madras. I will say only this: Designers, please take note. — ZACHARY DELUCA

Zachary DeLuca has recently tendered his resignation from his day job and will embark on a new career path as vintage dealer and custom clothing apprentice. He operates the Etsy shop Newton Street Vintage from his home in Cambridge, MA.

8 Comments on "Plaid Scientist: Dissecting Vintage Madras"

  1. Old School | June 4, 2011 at 8:59 am |

    Wonderful colors in that Langrock jacket.
    Apparently I was not mistaken in recalling the vibrancy of Madras colors in the 1960s.
    Not a pigment of my imagination.

  2. Christian | June 4, 2011 at 9:07 am |

    OK, that was a good one.

  3. An insightful and informative presentation.

  4. These photos make me sad that I ever got rid of the vintage unstructured Madras jacket that I found in a shop on Carnaby Street in London back in 1989. What was I thinking!

  5. This post was a perfect storm. Great insight from Mr. DeLuca and some beautiful jackets, all taken in while wearing vintage madras trousers purchased from the author himself. Upstanding and gracious merchant!

  6. Russell_Street | June 4, 2011 at 4:03 pm |

    It’s posts like this that show why this is the best Ivy blog bar none!

  7. The Real Russell | June 5, 2011 at 7:47 am |

    I actually agree with that! 😉

  8. Greg Peters | June 5, 2011 at 12:33 pm |

    We have a rather famous guy in Canada who might dress in a jacket like this – although he would not likely wear a “suitable” shirt and tie with it. His name is Don Cherry – google his name and check out the images of him in plaid.

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