Sunday, April 25, 2010

Madras…Let it Bleed

I was too young for the bleeding madras craze of decades ago but I remember it. A lot of the 60’s pop culture and societal trends resonate with me not because I was old enough to immerse myself but because I had twenty-one older first cousins. My mother is the youngest of ten and most of her sibs lived within three hours of us when I was growing up. I love this photo-these could very well have been my older cousins and no-this isn't some contrived picture for a TV show. Dig the madras.
I mentioned to AllieVonSneakItHome over at Summer is a Verb that I remembered getting an alligator strap and silver buckle belt when I was in the third grade. My first trad recollection. They obviously weren’t that expensive back then or I would never have gotten one. I can remember as a third grader wanting the things that my older cousins or the older-cooler guys in my neighborhood had…and this time period was the sweet-spot for bleeding madras. I never remember having anything madras during my elementary school years and by the time I was old enough to shop in the men’s department or the hometown haberdashery it was too late. That sartorial blotch of a decade known as the 70’s was preening about in all its synthetic glory.
In addition to recollections of idolizing older cousins and cool neighborhood guys, I remember the owner of the clothing store I worked in talking about fads one day. You might recall that my little hometown trad store opened in 1927 and the guy I worked for bought it after the War…around 1947. One day he was talking about various hot trends that had come and gone during his thirty six years of owning the place. He mentioned the London Fog windbreaker craze and how it was difficult to keep them in stock. Actually now that I think about it, the demand for London Fog windbreakers was pretty strong when I worked there. The Baracuta would have been just a tad too slick and expensive for my little home town trad shop. He talked about the early 70’s and in his diplomatic words, what a cluster foxtrot the styles were. He said that the Nehru jacket fad went cold overnight…almost like someone turned off a switch at 2:35 pm on a Thursday afternoon. He’d reluctantly stocked them after turning away so many customers but ended up having to eat most of his Nehru inventory.

But his most fascinating story was about bleeding madras shirts. He stocked madras trousers as well but the frenzy he most remembered was around bleeding madras shirts. A Gant stockist at the time-he absolutely couldn’t keep the madras Gants on the shelf. The phone rang off the hook-parents called asking when another shipment might arrive-people were fighting over them. It sounded to me like something similar to the Dutch Tulip boondoggle of 1637. Mr. C. said that the most defining moment of the bleeding madras frenzy was when the high school principal came in to discuss the matter. It seemed the peer pressure associated with the shirts had reached such an energetic head that the principal wondered if perhaps Mr. C. would consider not stocking any more for the season. Mr. C. assured him that it was essentially a non-issue given that the season was almost over and there were no more Gant bleeders to be had. I’m sure bleeding madras was popular for more than one season but the powers that be deemed it to be most palpably important for at least one season in a small South Carolina town.
So where’s bleeding madras today? It isn’t. The unstable vegetable dyes that seem so fitting for this rather coarsely and almost primitively woven-albeit with great skill-fabric have been replaced. So the choice is no longer yours-the choice of either setting the dye with vinegar or salt water or what would be my choice-washing the loose dye out immediately and thus embarking with your fabric on a course of slightly changing hues, shades and colors over time. Almost as if the fabric was alive. Most dyes today are synthetic entities that don’t relinquish color easily. 
I think about what LFG and I had to do to wallop the high tone color edge from my Banks patch madras sportcoat courtesy of Toad Motivation last summer. It wasn’t an easy task.
So my boy Tintin-The Trad and I are talking not long ago and he mentions a cache of old stock up at O’Connell’s in Buffalo. The Brethren Brooks for a time, sold goods to the trade and it seems that O’Connell’s stocked them. Specifically Tintin was referencing The Brethren button downs-made in America-in the old Golden Fleece plastic bags. Now I’m thinking that it would be nice to have a Brethren OCBD from the old days but I forgot about it completely for a few weeks.

Then last week when I was high on NyQuil…that same night I drunk clicked and bought the Nantucket Blues from Murray’s, I remembered Tintin’s OCBD reconnaissance per O’Connell’s. So I scoot over to their site and the OCBDs become an afterthought within five seconds. 
I don’t want to over-dramatize the phenomenon folks but there is a once in a lifetime-treasure trove of bleeding madras at O’Connell’s. Brand new old stock and it’s the real deal. Rich in runny vegetable dye and just waiting, at about ninety bucks, for you to pounce. This is one of those “when it’s gone it’s gone” kind of things and unless someone unearths another trove of togs, you won’t see this caliber of diverse color and pattern again-at least not in the vegetable dyed world.
What to do? There were only about a zillion-trillion-million (LFG math) choices in my size. Sorry by the way, for you guys that are 36 waist and above. There ain’t much here for you…but for the pixies like me-this is unstable dye nirvana. 
I settled on one pair that I knew would manifest color change readily and then another more subdued version. I’m sure to go back for another round of these-just because I can.
Envy doesn't wear well on you my friends. Just get on over to O'Connell's and join the party. 
I mean come on! Look at these hogs. Somebody HAS TO STEP UP and procure these. Imagine what they'll look like after the dye loosens. My name is ADG and I am a tablecloth. Shut up. A few clicks later and I’ve secured a made in USA Brethren OCBD but my real satisfaction came from bagging two bleeding trews.
The fit is classic and the tailoring is what it should be for a perishable fabric that won’t last forever. BTW...this shot is for the ladies. And Maurice. Madras is the anti-cavalry twill so why have a Savile Row maker contrive such things with their usual level of construct? The O’Connell bleeders are tailored better than any of the crap you are going to find at J. Crew or any of the other contemporary madras interlopers. And they are fully lined.
Interesting how fashion rules are transitory yet cyclical. The tapered leg silhouette of these bleeders is right in line with the flat front-narrow leg trend of today. Thom Browne would be proud.
Warm soapy water to loosen the dye begins the odyssey. 
And yes, we use a 19th century watercolour study as a kitchen sink splash guard. What's your point?
There is a reason why the call it bleeding madras folks.
Outdoor-overnight drying and step one is complete-prior to heading over to Suh for hemming. 

You can hit all the right spots in queuing these babies up for sartorial elegance and still blow it if you hem them wrong. Slim legged madras trews are made to be worn a bit short. No break at all. You should be banned from Tradhood if you wear these treasures and have them fall in puddles around your shell cordovan wheelhouses. I opted for no cuff on these chic numbers.
Ok, let me just get to the verdict on patch madras. I’ve officially banned patch madras until at least July 4th. This was neither an easy decision nor a rushed one. I’ve pondered the pros and cons of this decision as well as the collateral damage that might be borne. In the end though, I have to say that it’s going to be best for you, me and the brand equity of just this particular madras assemblage. 
I told you last August that when the goods ended up in the surf/head shops, the brand equity was in peril. 
When I saw patch madras cargo shorts in the Gap Outlet on King Street here in Alexandria the other day, my mind was set.
I’ll weigh in again after July 4th but for now-lock the stuff away and don’t complain. Look how much patch mad resource utilization I’m forgoing. Until then, get your butt over to O’Connell's and pounce.



Toad said...

I was a victim of madras in its early 60's pass through town. God, how I hated it. All I wanted were Lacoste shirts, and yellow sox like the cool kids.

Thank those in power bleeding madras is generally unavailable now, or I'd have to mortgage the farm. I wonder if you can still get somewhere in India?

James said...

I was in the fifth grade and was the only kid on the block with out a bleeding madras shirt.My mom finally broke down and bought me one.I was in heaven. Good times, good times.Thanks for the memory jogger.

Laguna Beach Fogey said...

Very nice indeed ADG. Thanks for sharing these pics with us. Those blue-green bleeding madras trews are to dye for.

I worry about the future credibility of madras, when just about everyone and his grandmother is wearing madras shorts these days. I see loads of madras shorts--but not too many madras shirts, trousers, or jackets. Those of us who wear the last three (3) items may continue to do so in safety, I would think.

K.S.Anthony said...

My God: it's like the Holy Grail and Lost Ark of madras caches! Thanks for this!

heavy tweed jacket said...

Lordy, you're makin' my heart bleed for you. Wonderful post. You're right, the new madras just stays as smiling-bright-perky-loud after 10 washings as they were when they were new. May your new trousers fade and soften, and may you always have a refreshing beverage to enjoy them with.

ilovelimegreen said...

ADG- You did one fabulous job with your navy patch jacket, provided you didn't wash out the photo too!
For a non-boring history of color, pigments and dyes, you must read Victoria Finlay's "Color: A Natural History of the Palette"; part history, part art history, part travel, with bits of anthropology mixed in - and a bit about your pal, Turner. And if anyone is looking for boring books on dyes, I can point you in that direction too.

NCJack said...

Recall Madras madness, seersucker shirt mania (with matching belt) cream or white slacks with burgundy shirts/belts, quite a few things in the early-mid 60s that a young "grit" (equals preppie, frattie, non-greaser or -redneck) HAD to have before he could set foot in the school door

How big were the monogram letters on your lambswool v-neck sweater? Pretty sure mine were 2 1/2" olde englishe. Worn under a London Fog windbreaker, of which I wish they were still made

Summer is a Verb said...

You called??? And, you know my vote's for the tablecloth pair. Now excuse me while I get back to scheduling this weeks worth of drop ships...XXOO

ADG said...

NC was a great time...just before the 70's...when you grew sideburns...don't deny it...and you bought a polyester suit with a reversible vest and extra britches.

LimeGreenGal...thanks.More books. Yippee.


K.S.A. some of them.

LagunaTradMan...I agree.

James...Peer pressure...amazing.

Toad...I'm not sure if one can find vegetable dyed madras anymore. It would probably have to be commissioned and then we'd see words like "artisnal...handcrafted" etc and the prices would be out of sight.

Brian said...

Big fan of bleeding madras. My boss the brit, gave me an old sport coat in bleeding madras that no longer fit him. It has just that right broken in look to it. Hope you are having a good weekend.

Scott said...

Patch madras should be banned until further notice. I see patch madras shorts, NASCAR shirts and hairy feet in flip flops all too often these days. (Yes, all at one time! And that's just the girls...)

Great trou, by the way. I stocked up on O'Connells bleeding shirts last year.


Anonymous said...

No madras for me this year. Alas, I wore it all in high school in the early 60s--even that horrendous triangular scarf with the little ties at the end. The regrettable little scarf was worn as a bandanna on the head or draped about the neck and tied in front. Yikes.
Here's Hallie's rule about the fashion cycle, "If you wore it as a teenager or adult when it was in fashion the first time, you are too old to wear it when it comes around 30 or 40 years later." Fortunately, my vision is still good enough to enjoy the view of tanned, hairy young legs in their fashionable madras shorts. Patch or solid, they'll make me smile. Hallie

The Uppity Puppy said...


What about classic strapless J.Crew madras dress for 20-something Washingtonista that's two parts Theodore Roosevelt (literally) and one part Southward-leaning pink & pearls ?

Am I still banned until the 4th? Even with cowboy boots?

Vogue on the Range/Potomac

Anonymous English Female said...

ADG - I'm crazy about those pants. Like you said natural dyestuffs are so much more interesting because they're living. Incidentally - you know the (India) Yellow dye is made from the urine of cows who've been fed mango leaves, don't you?

Unknown said...

Why would you line madras pants? Isn't part of the point the light and breezy nature of the fabric? Does the lining defeat that aspect of the fabric?

Giuseppe said...

The O'Connell's stuff is outrageous....if only I had ninety bucks to burn. Dammit.

ADG said...

Brian…Weekend was rockin’…to the degree it could be with the allergy thang kickin’ my ascot. Shoot a pic of the jacket.

Scott ...It IS banned. For the very reasons you articulate. Sorry I missed the shirts.

AnonymousTriangularScarf…I’m still laughing.

VogueRooseRanger...My goodness you’ve put me in a tough spot. If your bloodlines were more closely aligned to Franklin I could easier say no. What am I to do? If I make the exception for you-the floodgates will open and I’ll be inundated with please for patch mad mercy. I might even be liable for a tort of some kind. I’m thinking that you’ve already decided on wearing your concoction to gold Cup. So…here’s my verdict. Gold Cup ONLY and then straight home for a costume change.

AnonEngFem...Cow Urine and Mango Leaves. My goodness…does it smell like asparagus pee?

Clinton...Good question. These trousers would be like tissue if they weren’t lines. The equally light cotton muslin complements the fabric and certainly enhances the drape. Don’t think for a moment that this lining is equal to a sating lining in a wool trouser. Think more “double brown bagging” at the grocery/liquor store.

Giuseppe...What size do you wear?

Unknown said...

Interesting. If the lining is indeed cotton muslin, you'll have to show some pictures of how it develops as well, as I'd assume some of the dye that bleeds out of the outer fabric will bleed into that pristine white liner. Will you end up with madras pants with a tie-died liner? Preppie on the outside, hippie on the inside? ;)

The Uppity Puppy said...

Gulp - my Gold Cup dress is posted on VogueOntheRange... much lovelier than the madras...can I at least have a pass to wear it on the 4th? Or how bout to Memorial Day on the Capitol Lawn?

Enzo AGC said...

You can still find the veggie dye stuffs, its just more difficult these days. I'm fairly certain Rugby's summer madras offering is authentic bleeding madras. I remember Mr. Norwood talking about going great lengths to procure the real stuff.

ilovelimegreen said...

ADG- I've surveyed my summer wardrobe and realize that I have a mix of madras patch, gingham patch, chambray patch, and plain old plaid patch shirts, pants, and jackets. Since I've not seen any of the non-madras patch on the masses, I am guessing it is copacetic to wear non-madras patch before 4th of July.

(And do I detect some sarcasm regarding books?)

ADG said...

AllievonPatch...Yes I suppose. However, even non-mad patch is awfully close to the culprit itself so I'd not do it...but das me.

Enzo...yep...I'm in Boston and just discovered some of it at Ralph.

Vogue...Ok. But only ONE wearing and that's it.

Clinton...that would be a cool trip if the lining did become a tie dyed element. Stay tuned.