What’s the Madder? Boyer on the Autumnal Neckwear Classic


Ancient madder ties, a fall/winter classic, are extra prevalent this year. Brooks Brothers has introduced them in its narrow width, and Ralph Lauren’s collections, especially Purple Label, are full of them.

But what exactly is ancient madder? We asked menswear sage G. Bruce Boyer to give us the scoop.

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Authentic ancient English madder neckwear, pocket squares, and scarves used to be a staple item of good campus shops in the USA.

The shops that I was most familiar with as a young man — Tom Bass (serving Lehigh University and Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA), and Langrock (on Nassau Street in Princeton, NJ) — divided their neckwear selections between rep stripes and patterns. The patterned selections included insignia clubs, neat foulards, wool challis and tartan, and always a special section for the English madders. In paisley or neat geometric designs, they were considered the king of campus ties, inevitably more expensive than the other ties, but more prestigious and discriminating.

Today this silk fabric is all but a lost art, but one firm that makes The Real Thing is Drakes of London. The dusty madder colors of mustard yellow, ruby red, faded jade green and indigo blue, dark chocolate, and bluff were initially achieved from natural dyestuffs (which are the madder, later synthesized with chemicals; I must remember to ask Michael Drake when and why the “ancient” was attached), and arduously silkscreen printed on special gum-twill silk. The dye bite gives the gum silk a distinctive bloom and tactile feel experts call a chalk hand, a uniquely soft heft to the fabric and subtle powdery, slightly faded quality to the color palette.

Ancient English madder neckwear, squares and scarves were so popular not only for their innate beauty and luxury, but because they were thought the perfect accompaniment to tweed sports jackets. This, to my mind which is somewhat prescribed by the tastes of my youth, remains a perfect combination.  — G. BRUCE BOYER

Put mind over madder and check out these current neckwear offerings.

O’Connell’s has a generous selection, including what it calls “the finest ancient madder necktie in the world, made for O’Connell’s by Atkinsons”:

Here’s one of Brooks Brothers’ narrow ancient madder ties:

J. Press offers a large selection of ancient madder neckties here:

Top image from Country Sports.
This article originally posted in November, 2010.

17 Comments on "What’s the Madder? Boyer on the Autumnal Neckwear Classic"

  1. Thanks for this post… I’m wearing an O’Connells ancient madder with tweed jacket as we speak. I guess I now understand the fabric, but looking forward to M.Drake’s explanation of the ancient bit. Wool challis should be your next investigative report 🙂

  2. In Scotland we frequently have a variety of tartans to choose from in any one Clan Pattern. Predominately, they range in terms of brightness. Dress being the brightest, Ancient being the most washed out (with Hunting usually in the middle)
    One suspects that “ancient madder” simply refers to the number of washes the fabric has had during production.

  3. I’ve got news for you: Drakes is a tie maker, but neither a silk weaver nor silk printer. He gets is his silk from Adamley Textiles (printed silk) or Vanners (woven silk). You would be better off speaking with actual silk manufacturers. The Vanners factory, for instance, takes raw silk and moves it up the chain.

  4. Bruce sent along the following response:

    We know all that, Mr. Royce, but many thanks for your kind remarks and reportage advice. Unfortunately my prose was sloppily misleading, and does leave the impression that Drakes makes the “fabric” rather than the tie. I had wanted to concentrate on a service aspect for readers, of which you are too well-informed to need the advice from this entry. My best regards.

    — G. Bruce Boyer

  5. Roy Rogers | May 13, 2011 at 9:34 pm |

    Because of the TWO JPress Ancient Madder ties I found today at a 1.00 “piecegoods”Store…I just had to do some research.
    Whoa! I had no idea of this website.
    May I just hang-around and read …please…? I promise not to comment!
    I’m a South Carolina Native…stuck out in Oklahoma. I miss my Trad-Friends back home (but dang, do I ever have some boots, spurs and working-cowboy hats).
    My first Ancient Madder ties. Mr. Boyer used the word, “discreet”. Perfect.

  6. Does anybody out there know where to get good very large thin silk… Handkerchiefs? Pocket Squares? I don’t really know what they are. About two feet per side, lovely neat foulard pattern and a paisley pattern on others that’s been complicated. I know Drakes and Ferragamo make lovely stuff, but Im having a hard time finding what I want in the 60 cm sq range. The ones I do have are Very old now and running to rattiness. I would like to replace them if anybody knows of a good maker.

  7. I recently purchased 3 madder silk ties from Fort Belvedere here and the workmanship is even better than J. Press and Drakes. The madder silk is English and top notch. definitely worth a look.

  8. Chipp Neckwear also carries a very reasonably priced line of Ancient Madder ties:


  9. Charlottesville | November 30, 2016 at 11:52 am |

    Great post. I just had a (roughly) 10-year old 4″ wide ancient madder tie from Brooks narrowed to 3″. I was never comfortable with the old width, but the fabric was so beautiful I couldn’t resist. Got it back yesterday and can’t wait to wear it. I have 4 A-M ties and a pocket square now, and they are indeed perfect with tweed. The one I have from Chipp 2 does not have quite the same dusty colors and chalk hand, but it is lovely nonetheless and was a good buy.

  10. I bought an old Brooks ancient madder tie, need to have it narrowed as it is already a short tie.

  11. Mr. Boyer, how about a post dedicated to wool challis?

  12. I hate these narrow ties. 3.5″ is just right. Anything less is just straight and has no shape.

  13. In the six years since this was originally published the “large selection” at Press appears to have shrunk to just two!

  14. I’m know mine will be a minority opinion regarding ancient madder ties but they are about the ugliest ties I have ever seen. I would imagine that Herb Tarlic might fancy these ties.



  15. Yours is not the minority opinion. It’s by far the majority opinion. How many men embrace the amoeba print? I know of…well, zero.

    Ralph Lauren has offered subtle/tasteful wool challis designs.

  16. Jim Bourg | April 1, 2018 at 8:04 am |

    S.E., Don’t buy the amoeba prints, try the paisleys instead or the geometrics.

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