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Remember Madras?

I can’t remember what made me think about Madras shirts last week. It might have been because we were having uncommonly hot weather for early spring, and that started me thinking about whether I needed new warm-weather shirts. I’ve made a bad habit of buying Harris tweed jackets on eBay, so of course I went on eBay and searched for Madras shirts.

There were quite a few. Most of them seemed to have been made by Ralph Lauren. They were surprisingly inexpensive, which made me think that, unlike well made Harris tweed jackets, which can be pretty dear, nobody wants Madras shirts anymore.

Well, too bad for them, then, because I’ll wear them. When I was in junior high school (think 1963), Madras shirts were a major thing and a status symbol. I don’t think I had one until high school, when I bought a Madras shirt with my own money, which I had earned from my weekend job as a newspaper copy boy. It was mostly yellow, as I recall, with a lot of narrow deep red lines, and maybe some blue or green.

The shirt I’m wearing in the photo actually is 100 percent linen, which makes me think that it’s not authentic made-in-India Madras. Madras was always made from cotton, as far as I know. But it seems that the history of Madras is as long as the history of Harris tweed. Originally, Madras cloth was loomed by hand, by workers in India. Unsurprisingly, there also is some sort of British colonial connection, including a particular connection with Scotland.

Go figure. But my new thinking is that Madras shirts are to hot weather as Harris tweed jackets are to cold weather. And suddenly I’m afraid that I’m at risk of starting a collection. They are outrageously comfortable, though, and much cheaper on eBay than any decent shirt bought new.


  1. Henry Sandigo wrote:

    Madras “This is the modern name of the area of southern India previously known as Madraspatnam or Madras. The name was first used by a shirt maker in 1844 to describe the fabric, although the fabric has been around for over 5,000 years. The fabric is woven from short staple cotton.”

    I recall buying a few probably at the local mens store in SF where I worked in the 60’s70’s in the Haight. They had a crinkly look, but I don’t know if they were cotton or linen, I suspect cotton, a bit cheaper than linen? Can you buy new Madras anywhere?
    For me today; just a T-Shirt, Levi’s and sandals where I live

    Friday, April 5, 2024 at 3:10 pm | Permalink
  2. Henry Sandigo wrote:

    Out of curiosity I checked and cotton Madras today new sell for $230+ – ha ha thats a joke

    Friday, April 5, 2024 at 3:14 pm | Permalink
  3. daltoni wrote:

    Hi Henry: $230?? Have a look on eBay and see what you find…

    Friday, April 5, 2024 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

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