Can you bring the madras outside of its preppy box? 2
Morgan Madras Sport Coat (Photograph from Ralph Lauren), Briton Madras Shorts (Photograph from Lyst)

Can you bring the madras outside of its preppy box?

In look and feel, nothing spells summer than the madras fabric. But is it versatile?
Monchet Olives | Mar 28 2019

I have been remiss in my writing. I have been in a funk. I just couldn’t draw any inspiration to put my thoughts into words. But nothing brings the spring back in my step that writing about what I enjoy: looking at how classic styling can be made up-to-dat and, possibly, edgy. The challenge my editor gave me: how to make an icon of preppy dressing, the madras checks, play with unpreppy elements. Will it work?

Named for what the city of Chennai used to be called, madras is lightweight handwoven cotton with textured and plaid patterns usually more complicated than the usual checkered design. It was made for keeping cool during hot days, as India is wont to be.  


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To prepare for this article, I wore a pair of 20-year old J. Crew madras trousers to the office, matched with a linen barong, and a pair of vintage Gucci loafers. When I asked Margie, my better half, if it looked okay, she said “It’s very you, Monchet.” I didn’t actually know how to take that. I drew my inspiration from our 80s style bible, The Official Preppy Handbook. In the book, the madras was worn with a starched dress shirt, a surcingle tie belt, and yes, the classic horse bit loafer.

I wasn’t too pleased with the way it all looked, especially with the barong. My pants were a bit baggy. Maybe if it was a little slimmer, it would have made the ensemble work.


More essentials for the contemporary prepster:


I reveled in my heady years wearing Madras checks, either in a jacket (mine was Polo on-sale) or pants by Polo, LL Bean or J.Crew. So I was convinced that a jacket, trousers or shorts (worn separately mind you, and altered to be more slimming), teamed with trainers or loafers would carry me effortlessly from the euphoric parties of my youth to the more urbane, boat events I now get invited to. Madras, in any form, is a summer staple. Wearing Madras seemed to get a good reception at every port of call. I guess printed pants—madras, checks, or batik—just emits such a summer vibe, and, worn correctly, will give you a very now prepster edge.

Can you bring the madras outside of its preppy box? 3
Classic Fit Madras Short. Photograph from the Official Website of Ralph Lauren


Wearing madras requires a bit of bravura, and is not for everyone. But I think the appeal is undeniable. It’s lightweight, breathable and chic when rumpled. It has prints and colors that provide a welcome note to a bland wardrobe. It is that fine line between wearing plain old chinos, jeans, or some “out there” designer blah-blah you picked up at Mr. Porter. I wouldn’t even geek over the real kind of madras, but I appreciate the fine prints and patch work.

Can you bring the madras outside of its preppy box? 4
Thorton Madras Sneaker. Photograph from the Official Website of Ralph Lauren

Madras, like all fabrics that have history, needs an urban edge. Worn in new ways, it will expand the choices in your closet. Prepster edge (like the RL collab with Palace) is to Americans, as sprezzatura (Hi-tech fabrics of Zegnas xxx line) is to Italians. It needs a level of coolness so that it isn’t contrived.

How to wear it?

The madras pattern (Burberry doesn’t count, okay), in a shirt, worn with jeans and a pair of Chelsea boots is a nice and soft casual summer look.

A madras blazer, worn with a collar tee, jeans, and loafers give you that badass hipster vibe. A pair of madras trousers, worn yet again with a well fitted t-shirt and trainers, spells “summer is near.”

For us older folk, the well-worn trousers and shorts can do with a taking-in at the hips to give it a more youthful look. An old dress shirt, slimmed down and shortened with those Guccis will work anywhere, as long as you have the cojones to wear them.


Nick Wooster in a Madras Patchwork blazer. 👔👨🏻🕶 #NickWooster #NickWoosterFanPage

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If all this is new to you, and you want to slide in slowly, fabric belts, watch straps and shorts can get you warmed up for the summer. This fabric has been around for centuries, and won’t be going away. You will never go wrong browsing through the Ralph Lauren site or IG to get the feel of wearing madras. It is a classic that is simply redone yearly to go with the style fit of the period.