Madras Season: Dexys Midnight Runners

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

34 Comments on "Madras Season: Dexys Midnight Runners"

  1. Christian,

    The mention of “radical conformism” made me think of Dick Hebdige’s Subculture: The Meaning of Style. Although it is a little dated, I think that it is still a good read for anyone that is interested in Ivy/Trad clothing in relation to subcultures.

  2. Button-Down Mind Strikes back | July 4, 2012 at 8:35 pm |

    1983 was the height of the preppy boom/fad in the US. I distinctly remember when this LP was released, and I also remember thinking that Dexy’s were trying to be ironic or something by aping the current fad. Even then I knew instinctively that it was just schtick, just another of Kevin Rowland’s many “looks” that would soon disappear. Of course that was exactly what happened.
    Rowland went through many other costume changes since then, including a well-publicized “shocking” transvestite thing.

    He may very well have a fondness for those clothes, but he also may just as well be dressing like a 30s gangster, or a pirate. It was just a costume for him.

  3. Show biz is show biz, hell Madonna occasionally dresses like a virgin.

  4. Oh, and I’d do the red blazer in cotton twill, brass buttons, be a great week end jacket.

  5. Boston Bean | July 4, 2012 at 10:34 pm |

    Buttondown Mind:

    “It was just a costume for him”.

    Believe it or not, that’s precisely what it is for many (most?) ivy adherents.

  6. Orgastic future | July 5, 2012 at 12:11 am |

    It’s a costume for EVERYONE but the originators…

  7. L.A. Trad | July 5, 2012 at 12:36 am |

    @Orgastic future:

    Hear! Hear!

    How nice to come across some honesty!

  8. I don’t take the word “costume” as derogatory, I’ve often used the word to describe what’s appropriate dress for different occasions. For example, I’d wear the outfits above, but not to a funeral.

    So, the only individuals ivy style would not be just a costume are a hand full of Jewish gentlemen tailors.

  9. Interesting. Sometimes I wonder why this sort of ‘heritage’ approach to stage appearance is not more popular, say, with jazzers.

  10. Button-Down Mind Strikes back | July 5, 2012 at 11:57 am |

    @Boston Bean

    I disagree. If it’s something you’ve just always worn, it’s not a costume.

    Not in the sense that Rowland (and his entire band de jour) would all simultaneously adopt a “look” like gypsy, dockworker, preppy, 1920s Cotton Club, etc… and then simultaneously all drop that “look” for the next LP. THAT is a costume, in the Halloween sense.

    If you just instinctively don the clothes around the house, without a thought, when nobody is there to see, then it’s not a costume. In my opinion.

    I can already guess your next point of trolling: “Anybody who makes any conscious decision about clothes is wearing a costume”. Save the semantics trolling…

  11. cos·tume/ˈkäst(y)o͞om/
    A set of clothes in a style typical of a particular country or historical period.
    Dress (someone) in a particular set of clothes.
    noun. dress – suit – garb – clothes – clothing – attire
    verb. dress

    Two different people dress ivy style, one has dressed that way for fifty years, the second “in the sense that Rowland (and his entire band de jour) would all simultaneously adopt a “look” like gypsy, dockworker, preppy, 1920s Cotton Club, etc… and then simultaneously all drop that “look” for the next LP” happens to dress that way because it is the current fashion, Both are wearing costumes, the first has perfected his personal style within ivy style, the second is chasing popular fashion like a greyhound chasing a fake rabbit around a dog track.

    We might be surprised how many jumped on the “preppy” Bandwagon in the 80s, stayed with it and learned the ‘rules” of ivy league costume. No body is born with good ivy taste, it’s learned.

  12. Button-Down Mind Strikes back | July 5, 2012 at 5:27 pm |


    I disagree.

    By your definition, everybody is wearing a costume.
    Cue the pseudo-philosophical ponderings…

  13. Yes, every person with clothing on is in costume. Real cowboys and pretend cowboys are both in a western wear costume.
    I really don’t care what motives them to dress the way they do, it’s none of my business. Regardless of the style a person dresses in, I always appreciate it if done well.

  14. Ignoring whether they adopted the ivy style for the particular album, does anyone know where to get the CD (or album) for less than $100? I could care less what a musical artist wears.

  15. Mark Coyle | July 7, 2012 at 6:41 am |

    The Ivy League connection goes a little deeper than the band identity for that album. He grew up in the late 1960s when the Mod scene had splintered into the hippies, blues fans and Skinheads. The smarter element of the Skinheads turned to original Ivy clothing from John Simons, grew their hair from crops into USA Boston cuts and called themselves Suedeheads. In the extended article within Paul Gorman’s ‘The Look’ book he describes the inspiration of this scene on his formative years. I remember also seeing Ivy inspired style in the 1970s in the Midlands associated with the early smart incarnation of the UK soul music scene.

  16. Mark Coyle

    Thanks for the interesting info and Brit perspective. I’ve always wondered about hippy costuming, I witnessed it in the late 60s & early 70s in America, was it inspired by gypsies or hobos?

    Have a great weekend, cheers.

  17. Let’s not forget the group that probably started the new cool trend in the early-to-mid eighties music scene: The Style Council. Following the line from Ivy League through Blue Note artists and British mods to European casuals, they could be seen wearing 3 button blue blazers, loafers, polo shirts or pastel-colored V-neck jumpers on their record sleeves and promotional pictures. A big influence to my teen-aged self in the early 80’s. Paul Weller is still wearing cool pinstripe suits to this day. If it hadn’t been for them, I probably wouldn’t be a regular visitor to this website today.

  18. Mark Coyle | July 7, 2012 at 11:38 am |

    I agree about the Style Council and it was no passing fad for them. Indeed Mick Talbot is still wearing a mixture of Ivy and classic British tailoring in the current line up of Dexys (bringing it back full circle). Although the Style Council lost the plot by the faux-soul LP they were starting to refind their form with modern deep soul just as the record company rejected it and Paul Weller went back to a solo guitar based career. The pictures and covers of their albums and particularly the EPs and singles were inspirational in moving beyond the awful Fred Perry ‘n’ Parka look to a more nuanced subtle styish look. There is a picture of Weller in chinos, loafers, blazer and so on leaving a pub with Mod kids looking on appalled. He had moved on as the original Mods did and became ‘stylists’ to separate themselves from the fashion based adopters. For me it was the start of my own journey on from Mod into a looking searching out Ivy style from the 1980s onwards until today.

  19. MAC asked,

    “[was] hippy costuming… inspired by gypsies or hobos?”

    Yes. 😉

    Hippies rejected “The Man” and everything he stood for, and went for the polar opposite. In the 70s, punks did the same thing, but added nihilistic ironic resentment to the mix.

  20. Henry
    I may be wrong, but didn’t Mr. Boyer in one of his articles mention, he thought it was a mistake for the new left to abandon ivy style. Or did I dream that?

  21. Mr. Bluecaff and Mr. Coyle

    I like hearing how people convert to ivy style, converts usually the most enthusiastic in justification, much like religious converts. Not meaning to be critical here or negative, just interested. Although, being an american, many of your references are lost on me. For example, The Style Council, it sounds like some fascistic entity from “A Clockwork Orange” or “Brazil” , what exactly is it?

  22. MAC, if the leftists hadn’t rejected the Ivy League look, then what would we reactionaries had to have worn to visually repudiate them—Edwardian garb?

    Sorry I can’t help you on the Boyer reference.a

  23. Henry
    We could have made a living as extras on Masterpiece Theater.

  24. @ Mark Coyle: Couldn’t agree more. Looks like we both started the same parallel journey back in the 80’s and have arrived at the same destination 😉

    @ MAC: It was evolution rather than conversion in my case. It’s not like I dressed like a punk and then I was converted into Ivy style overnight. I had been into Levi’s, loafers, polo shirts, button downs and v- neck jumpers since the age of 13. I never really cared about clothes before that age. So when I was about 17 I added 3 button jackets, narrow ties and oxford lace-ups to the mix. I know nothing about the Ivy League though

  25. @ Mark Coyle: Couldn’t agree more. Looks like we both started the same parallel journey back in the 80’s and have arrived at the same destination

    @ MAC: It was evolution rather than conversion in my case. It’s not like I dressed like a punk and then I was converted into Ivy style overnight. I had been into Levi’s, loafers, polo shirts, button downs and v- neck jumpers since the age of 13. I never really cared about clothes before that age. So when I was about 17 I added 3 button jackets, narrow ties and oxford lace-ups to the mix. I knew nothing about the Ivy League though. In those days music and clothes went together and through The Style Council I got into Blue Note, Motown and Stax. It was reading about Blue Note artists that I knew about the Ivy League look. As for The Style Council, no, they weren’t a “fascistic” entity. Just the opposite, sir! 😉 They were a music group formed from the ashes of The Jam and Dexys Midnight Runners/The Bureau. Their music was an ecclectic mix of pop, soul, jazz, funk and even bossa nova, classical music and deep house. They paved the way for successful 80’s acts such as Sade, Simply Red and Fine Young Cannibals. Their clothes were almost as important as their music. You can find their biography and some record sleeves here:
    Dig their 3 button jackets, loafers, repp ties and jumpers, and if any of you are new to them, check them out and let us know what you think!

  26. Mark Coyle | July 8, 2012 at 3:59 am |

    For those from the UK the transition on from Mod into an enduring smart style took them towards the origins of the style with was rooted in 1950s Soho, London. This is where early Modernists (the precursor to the Mods) hung around coffee bars, Ronnie Scotts, music shops and clothing places on Shaftsbury Avenue. There they would run into USA GIs dressed top to toe in Ivy League who were in Soho for the bars, jazz clubs and red light district. Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones who was one such person and continues to be an advocate of sharp dressing and jazz had such a revelation and went looking for the style which was stocked in a minor way at Cecil Gees, Austins and a few others if you rooted it out. It was from there that John Simons went on to open his first shop in Richmond focusing entirely on Ivy League style. Therefore the UK Modernist scene started as a mixture of USA Ivy League style, Italian style (as Italian post-war new wave was popular amongst the arty set and the cappuccino boom had created an influx and interest in all things Italian) and jazz music. It was entirely centered around Soho and first document in the novel Absolute Beginners were the central character mentions wearing Ivy League clothing as early as 1958. By 1960 the style was evolving onwards to take in the Breton sailor look, a streamlined version of British tailoring and post-Teddy Boy dandyism (see the early pictures of Marc Bolan as Marc Field with a leather waistcoast and high collars). The ‘look’ as it became fixed didn’t settle until about 1962-3 and went overground in 1964 by which time those wearing Ivy League had stayed with the style and evolution of jazz to incorporate R&B/soul/latin/bossa nova and faded into the background as professionals in their work and using the title ‘Stylists’ instead of Mods. By the mid-1960s the original Ivy League modernists were no longer any kind of scene and were settling down (as people did earlier in those days). It was the smart-set Suedeheads and early soul scene I mentioned before that then revived the look.

    The band the Style Council was an attempt of Paul Weller and Mick Talbot to move back from the stripped down, straight jacketed uniform of guitar based pop and Mod back to its Modernist origins. Now I know outside UK the word Modernist has very specific meanings but I used it in the context of those 1950s youngsters in UK leaving behind the drabness of post-world war two Britain still with its bomb sites and only recently ending food and clothing rationing. These youngsters saw the future in colour not black and white (if you get my intention) so were interested in all that was modern, clothing, art, music, architecture, design, cinema, transport. The introduction of the hire purchase act (buying on credit) in I think 1959 enabled the young to finance their interests for the first time so invest in items beyond the weekly wage, leading to a boom in clothing, radio, music purchases and scooters/cars. The Style Council was an attempt to move back from a defined point of musical and stylistic identity which had seen Weller called ‘the voice of his generation’ (which is always dangerous) to a point of open ended possibility where there were no rules and the identity and music could evolve.

    At the tender age of 13 I saw The Style Council on their first tour, turning up in my Mod parka. They played jazz, bossa nova, soul, funk and by the end of the first set I knew things had changed. Most of the crowd didn’t understand why he wasn’t playing the post-punk Mod guitar pop of The Jam, for me it was a new future. I never wore my parka after this night, nor my polo shirts. I went out and found knit long sleeve polos, three button blazers with patch pockets, chunky loafers instead of English ones, handkerchiefs for my pockets, stripped big collar button down shirts, rain coats without anyone telling me how to look. For a while I dressed all in white with USA pop art colour printed t-shirts underneath. The point was that I could and no rules applied. I took on a Saturday job so that I could go down to London (at about age 14-15) every couple of months, buy off the peg ‘Mod’ suits and then take them to a tailor and have them altered in a bespoke way that nobody else did. Get them to roll the lapels, or split the seams of the ankle.

    As I moved into my twenties and thirties, my look stabilized and from my mid thirties I had read a lot about Ivy League clothing and wanted a look I could mature with, that was distinct from my peers but enabled me to fit into a business life invisibly but with an edge. In the USA Ivy League clothing is traditional and by the late 1960s a sign of being ‘square’ in the hippy age leading to Prep. However in the UK it looks ever so slightly different to the refinements of English tailoring. So it stands our, it looks effortlessly smart, somehow cool amongst the peak lapels, ticket pockets, pin stripe and black brogues. Arriving at an industry event dressed n Ivy looking gently unconventional. In a sea of stripey ties, spread collar shirts and pin stripe ties I was last week at Parliament for work in a perfect Ivy league herringbone blazer (think of that one worn by Dustin Hoffman), rolled collar button down with no tie, narrow flannels oxblood loafers with a blue mac and Boston cut hair. The brands of each was right but I don’t need to say them there. I have hopefully earned the right to have a distinctive voice in my sector after twenty years of initial learning and conformity, so this look which evolves each week is a way of marking myself out, quietly confidently. Paul Weller was a working class lad with social aspirations, the modernist ethos thinking that life can be better. That’s what I’ve followed, trying to refine and improve over time. Ivy style somehow is somehow part of this for those of us in UK who were led to its look. We see each other in the street around London, perhaps nod appreciatively at the most but its not a scene, it’s a personal aspect of our identity so onwards we stroll thinking of the next blazer…..

  27. Mark Coyle | July 8, 2012 at 4:01 am |

    Excuse occasional errors in my extended previous post, I can’t edit it and cringe reading back…. were not where and so on. Agh!

  28. Mark Coyle | July 8, 2012 at 7:43 am |

    Some of Kevin Rowland’s extended interview is available here: with an excellent black and white non-Madras dressed photo. I think it was as much poverty as fashion that caused him to non continue with the Ivy look (and the album was a crushing commercial flop that has never been reissued in UK).

  29. Chistian

    From the article’s photos, he seems to be more of a “work wear” guy. He seems to really like that Filson / Pendelton / L.L. Bean / Woolrich plaid jacket and there’s nothing wrong with his preference for the basic 501. Unfortunately, the photos never show him wearing one of those custom made suits, so we’ll have to withhold judgement.

  30. Bluecaff and Mark Coyle

    Very interesting, thanks for sharing your explanations and experiences. I always enjoy hearing how people evolve to or found the ivy style look. I’m never to old to learn.

    Thanks again, cheers!

  31. ABCNEWS and Harry Reid started this, Senator Reid must have forgotten that Ralph is a big DNC contributor, but of course the rest of the politicians had to pile on, so as not to be out demigod-ed. Now the Senate wants to pass legislation to force Olympic teams to wear made in USA uniforms. Someone should remind them that the US Olympics is a private organisation and has every right to purchase whatever uniform they choose, it’s their money. I don’t know if these could have been made cheaper in the USA, they still make polyester, but I think these uniforms were made top end because the members keep these for posterity. Personally, I think the Blazers are too short and tight, making the wears look like third world dictators, but it might be the camera angle of the photos I’ve seen. The following is from ABCNEWS.

    Here’s how much the uniforms cost:
    Beret – $55
    Tie – $125
    Belt – $85
    Shirt – $425
    Blazer – $795
    Trousers – $295
    Shoes – $165
    Beret – $55
    Scarf – $58
    Belt – $85
    Shirt – $179
    Skirt – $498
    Blazer – $598

  32. Cristian
    I could be ill-treat, but didn’t Mr. Boyer in lone of his articles bring up, he planning it was a mix pro the extra missing to abandon ivy stylishness. Or did I marvel with the intention of?

Comments are closed.