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