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The history of Madras Checks

Madras Checks are a type of plaid or checkered fabric that originated in the coastal city of Madras, now known as Chennai, in India. Madras Checks have a long and fascinating history that spans centuries, continents, and cultures. They have been worn by peasants and royals, traders and soldiers, celebrities and fashionistas. They have also been influenced by various factors, such as colonialism, trade, politics, and art. Here is a brief overview of the history of Madras Checks.

The Origin of Madras Checks

The earliest form of Madras Checks was a simple handwoven cloth made from the soft fibers extracted from the “tip skin” of native trees. The cloth was cut into 36-inch squares and block printed with bright-colored patterns. These squares were worn as lungis, a type of sarong wrapped around the waist and extending to the ankles, by the local fishermen and farmers in the 12th century.

The spread of Madras Checks

By the 13th century, Madras Checks had reached the Middle East and Africa, where they were used as headscarves or turbans. They were also traded along the Silk Road to other parts of Asia and Europe. However, it was the arrival of the European colonizers that led to the mass production and export of Madras Checks. The Dutch were the first to establish a trading post in Madras in 1612 and started buying calico cloth, a type of cotton fabric from Calicut. The British followed suit and set up the East India Company in 1640. They discovered the beauty and popularity of these patterns and began to export them to their other colonies, such as America and Africa.

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The Evolution of Madras Checks

As Madras Checks became more widely available and demanded, they also underwent some changes in their design and production. The Indian weavers started to dye the yarns with vegetable dyes instead of block printing them. They also incorporated tartan patterns inspired by the Scottish regiments that occupied southern India in the 1800s. The British also influenced the naming of some of these patterns, such as Bleeding Madras, which was dyed with fugitive dyes that bled with each wash, creating a unique effect. The American market also played a role in shaping the style and quality of these Checks. In the 1930s, American textile importers began to request lighter and softer fabrics that suited their climate and taste. They also created their own names for some of the patterns, such as Murray Hill, Pembroke, and Hyde Park.

The popularity of Madras Checks

Madras Checks reached their peak of popularity in the 1950s and 1960s when they became a symbol of preppy and casual fashion in America. They were worn by celebrities such as Elvis Presley, Audrey Hepburn, John F. Kennedy, and Paul Newman. They were also featured in movies such as The Talented Mr. Ripley and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.. These patterns have remained a timeless and versatile fabric that can be found in various forms of clothing and accessories, such as shirts, pants, skirts, dresses, jackets, bags, shoes, and hats. They are also a part of the cultural heritage and identity of many regions and communities around the world.

Today, Madras checks continue to be a popular choice for clothing, home textiles, and accessories. Their appeal transcends borders, and fashion designers across the world incorporate Madras checks into their collections. The classic pattern has evolved to include various contemporary interpretations, ensuring its relevance in the modern fashion landscape.

The history of Madras checks is a testament to the enduring appeal of traditional craftsmanship, vibrant color, and timeless design. From their origins in Chennai to their global recognition, Madras checks have made an indelible mark on the world of fashion and textiles. These handwoven, colorful checks are more than just a fabric; they are a symbol of heritage, culture, and a fashion legacy that continues to be cherished, celebrated, and adapted to modern tastes.

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