Madras Fabric: What It Is and Why You Should Wear It

Madras Fabric: What It Is and Why You Should Wear It

Madras is the perfect spring and summertime go-to for the well-dressed lady or  gentleman who wants to look sharp while keeping cool under the collar.

The fabric is light and easy to wear, and the patterns are eye-catching and versatile. At R. Hanauer, we have a handsome array of madras bow ties and accessories. Let’s dive into what madras is and consider some ways to wear it.


What Is Madras Fabric?

Madras refers to a colorful and lightweight cotton fabric, woven into distinct combinations of horizontal and vertical stripes. To oversimplify - madras is the warm-weather cousin of the wintertime staple, tartan

Madras Fabric sample

Authentic madras comes from a region in southeast India that was once called Madraspatnam, which is known today as Chennai. Cotton yarn is hand-dyed and then hand-spun. The yield is cloth that is the same on both sides with tell-tale bumps that result from the yarn being too fragile to be combed or carded. 

What Is the Difference Between Plaid and Madras?

The short answer is that, these days, there’s no difference between plaid and madras. Years ago, though, the words were not synonymous. 

Originally, Scotsmen kept warm while in traditional Highland garb by wearing a plaide - the word for blanket in Gaelic - across his waist and over his left shoulder. In time, the plaide and its tartan design became interchangeable in the American vernacular and today we use the terms plaid, madras and tartan to refer to the same fabric pattern.   

At R. Hanauer, we often use plaid to describe madras patterns. Our Dupioni series, for example, is a gorgeous plaid that could easily fall into the madras category.

Madras Bow Tie - Red Dupioni

Why Was Madras Popular in the 1960s?

Brooks Brothers introduced madras into the mass US market in their 1958 catalog. 

However, they neglected to indicate that cold water was required to keep the colors crisp. Unsuspecting - and unhappy - customers pulled their new garments from a warm-water wash to find that the semi-permanent vegetable dyes and oils had run together, creating a muddled, muted look.

Brooks Brothers capitalized on the error by launching a genius PR campaign that celebrated the glory of genuine madras that was “Guaranteed to Bleed” - and the rest is prep culture history!

Madras Suit - Brooks Brother's Catalog 1958

The decade that followed featured madras across men's and women's wear, from sport coats and bell bottoms to dresses and skirts. Madras became the “it” fabric and the warm, soft bleed became its prized signature. 

These days madras is more often chemically dyed than hand dyed and, for the most part, consumers no longer experience the bleed first hand. Snappy lines are as acceptable as fuzzy ones, and - depending on the event - can be preferable. 

Is Madras Back in Style Today?

We’d suggest it never went out of style! Madras has always had a place in menswear, and the modern gentleman has numerous opportunities to showcase a refined and polished look that proudly displays the character-rich fabric. 

Among our R. Hanauer favorites is the striking Peach & Aqua Bow Tie. It’s a versatile piece that’s perfect for daytime and evening events, like a summer wedding, weekend brunch or a backyard barbecue. This charming accessory is also available in Green, Yellow & Pink, Navy, Red & White, and Pink & Navy.

 Madras Bow Tie in Peach and Aqua

For more formal gatherings, we offer two stunning madras cummerbund sets - Green, Yellow & Pink and Purple & Orange. Investing in a set means you’ll always have a dapper madras bow tie on hand for everyday, as well as a chic and comfortable conversation starter for special occasions.

Madras Cummerbund Set

Five Easy Madras Styling Tips for Preppy Ladies & Gentlemen

Madras is always fun and festive - but it can wear you if you’re not careful. Here are five styling tips to keep you feeling head-to-toe confident:

1. Less is more 

    As a general rule, choose one madras piece per ensemble and be mindful about mixing it with other patterns. (Or - you could also *break* the rules!)

    2. Keep it grounded

      Pair madras with neutrals - like khakis and chinos - or solids (like a white blouse or shirt). Consider choosing one color from the pattern to inform the rest of the outfit.

      Madras Suit for Women

      3. Prep it up

        To complete the preppy look, intentionally add accessories. Pull a boat shoe or loafer, braided or striped belt, and a classic or statement watch, as examples.


        4. Make it casual

        Madras is happy and approachable - carry yourself to match! Don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves, wear shorts and skip the socks.

        5. Pressed and ready

          The busy pattern and the casual vibe may trick you into thinking you can forego ironing. Never! A well-dressed lady or gentleman always keeps wrinkles at bay.


          Show us your madras (and your plaid and tartan)! Find and follow us on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube - and, of course, tag us with #RHanauer.