The name ‘Madras’ is taken from the Indian city of Madras (now known as Chennai) where the style was invented. Historians claim that Madras cloth originates from 1200s and was made of yarn that had been spun from the tip-skin of ancient trees. This evolved in to a more refined cotton that was very light weight and airy making it perfect for sweltering Indian summers. Traditionally Madras check shirts were coloured using vegetable dyes and woven into stripes and checks. The story goes that the check designs were inspired by the tartan plaids of the Scottish regiments that occupied southern India in the 1800s.
The dyes used in the past were not colourfast, which meant that the colours would bleed when washed and create new effects with each laundering. When these shirts were first introduced to the American market, around the 1930s, there was huge dismay that the fabrics ran meaning there were a lot of returns and quality complaints from customers. It took some careful re-marketing, but eventually the bleeding effect became a highly prized feature. A little like wearing in good denim, the evolution of a well-worn Madras to a muted, sun-soaked palette is now viewed as a charming distinguishing feature of the style.
Madras began to be enshrined in the “preppy” look in the 1960s when Madras shirts, shorts and blazers or jackets became popular on the campuses of Ivy League schools in the States. Particularly popular were the cut and sew shorts which were traditionally from 3cm squared swatches of different Madras checked material and sown together for a patchwork effect.
So preppies now you know what you'll be wearing this summer. (Story thanks to Lyle & Scott)