How a humble Indian fabric became a symbol of luxury in 1960s America | News World


On the cover of Lisa Birnbach’s “The Official Preppy Handbook,” a tongue-in-cheek 1980s guide to looking, acting and thinking like a US prep school elite, a pattern along the border depicts a fabric that has become synonymous with casual American luxury: madras.

The colorful plaid cotton cloth has been used by brands like Ralph Lauren and Brooks Brothers for decades. Think light summer dresses, shirts and shorts worn at the country club or on sailing holidays in the Bahamas — the kind of attire that might be complemented by a pair of leather boat shoes.

But this staple of preppy American fashion has humble origins, far from Martha’s Vineyard or the hallways of Yale or Harvard, in Chennai, India, the coastal city from which it takes its name. (Chennai was known as Madras during British rule.) Originally worn by Indian laborers, the cloth almost…


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