I love madras – the colorful, airy fabric named after the Indian city from which it originally came. The stuff is lightweight and very breathable, which means it makes for the perfect summer shirt. Madras shirts are a wonderful accompaniment to trousers or suits made from cotton or linen, and of course should be worn with summer appropriate footwear, such as loafers or suede bucks. Unfortunately, good madras shirts are hard to find these days, and not because all the new stuff is colorfast, instead of bleeding and fading easily like the ones from yesteryear (for that truly dégagé look). Rather, it’s because most don’t fit me well or they lack the design details I want.
My solution has been to get ones custom made. You can buy madras fabrics online through Atlantis Fabrics. They have two web pages – here and here – dedicated to them, and many are just $6 a yard. Given that the average sized man only needs about two yards per shirt, that’s just $12 for materials.
You can also check fabric stores to see if they have anything suitable. Above are some swatches from Rosen & Chadick, a fabric shop in Manhattan. Though they’re in New York City, they’re more than happy to send out fabric swatches for free. After you’ve figured out what you want, you can call them and pay for your order with a credit card. Most selections are $15 a yard.
Once you have your fabrics, you’ll need to find a shirtmaker who is willing to take them from you. If you don’t have someone local you can go to, I recommend Cottonwork. They can custom make something to your body measurements or, if you’re hesitant about the process, they can copy any existing shirt you have. Just send them your best fitting shirt along with any notes about things you’d like tweaked (if any). They charge about $45 per shirt if you’re supplying the fabrics.
If you’re reluctant to go the custom route, there are a bunch of ready-to-wear companies you can consider, such as O’Connell’s, J Press, Brooks Brothers, and Dann Online. Some of these will fit quite full, such as the ones at Dann Online, while others can be very slim, such as Brooks’ Extra Slim Fits.
You can also check out Gant Rugger and Ralph Lauren. Gant Rugger’s shirts are very slim and mostly meant to be worn untucked, while Ralph Lauren has the fuller "Classic Fit" and slimmer “Custom Fit.” Finally, for something cheaper, try J Crew. In the past, they offered disappointingly drab designs, but this season’s are pleasantly colorful (as madras should be). If you wait till the end of the season, you can easily find their madras shirts discounted by 40-50%.
(Cottonwork will be a Put This On advertiser next month, but our advertising and editorial processes are separate. – Jesse)