Friday, May 15, 2009

Madras: India or Nantucket? Poverty or Prep?

Today I had lunch with a dear friend of mine, a self proclaimed prepster who loves Vineyard Vines like she loves Jesus, Jews, and Ellis. Naturally, she was wearing a Madras print jacket that cost, as she said, "As much as my French Open tickets." Of course, my younger sister, in her witty manner, said something along the lines of how it looked like the sewing machine threw up. For those of you who don't know what madras looks like, feast your eyes below on this pair of J.Crew shorts:

No self-loving prepster would wear rags, naturally. However, it got me to thinking about where the hell Madras came from (I with hold my opinion on this print for the time being). So where do I go? Like any good Yale research student: Wikipedia.

The holy bible we call wikipedia sez:
Madras is a lightweight cotton fabric with patterned texture, used primarily for summer clothing -- pants, shorts, dresses and jackets. The fabric takes its name from the former English name of the city of Chennai, India.

One style popular during the 1960s was called bleeding Madras. It used dyes that were not colorfast in a typically plaid design, resulting in bleeding and fading colors that yielded a new look to the fabric each time it was laundered.

Apparently, madras is worn by Indians today, not just Rickshaw pullers, but also respectable women. Check out this blog for some more background on that:

Not only that, check out this cool link to a "History of Madras." It is actually kind of bogus, but I think the notion of a timeline of Madras history supplied by Google is quite amusing.

Hmmm so Madras is actually from India? And not only India, but CHENNAI. Chennai is the home to the Madras Institute of Fashion Technology. Likely not the home of J. Crew designers, but I bet they make a kickass Sari. Now, if you are as big of a fan as I am, Chennai is actually the musical and cultural capital of India--particularly the heart from where we get movies like Slumdog Millionaire. If you are a fan of "Jai Ho" like I am, Chennai and therefore Madras got a whole lot more attractive from just a pair of plaid rags put together and sold for $150 at J. Crew.

Funny thought though: If Chennai/Madras(its colonial name) was a British colony, essentially the entire print of Madras is a remnant of British colonialism and elitism. Some things never change I suppose. As much as the elite of the US wear madras, so did our British imperialists of yesteryear. Fashion changes. Style is forever. If you want to call Madras style, go ahead. It will be around as long as imperialism is.


This Michael Kors Madras dress has a cut that even I, who normally avoids Madras, adore. The psychological contrast between a pencil dress and madras is huge for me. Madras is normally for wrinkled pants, a J.Crew dress out of the suitcase, or a cropped jacket. Here, the sharp lines, the tight and edgy little bow take the print to a new level. Perhaps not true madras, it at least as the audacity to reinvent the name madras as its own--almost as daring as the cute little slit up the back.

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