Cotton Rules: Madras is King

Now that we’re past Memorial Day, the color barrage begins.  It’s full on madras go-to-hell season, and the colors run bold.   A few months ago, I thrifted a great pair of flat front 100% cotton madras plaid Bermuda shorts from Lands’ End.  The color pattern is  red, navy, yellow and white.  I also thrifted a braided cotton belt with leather tabs (unknown maker) of very good quality.  Yesterday, I got a shirt that finishes off the quintessential look of summer – a short sleeved navy Lacoste that I bought on eBay.  These items can be worn with Sperry Topsiders (leather or canvas), Weejuns or Bean Blucher Moccasins.

Cost Breakdown

Lands’ End Madras Shorts:  $15.00

Braided Cotton Belt (Leather Tabs):  $4.99

Lacoste Shirt:  $16.00

Total of all items:  $35.99 (less than 1/2 the cost of a new Lacoste at retail).

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Patchwork Plaid Madras “Go To Hell” Shorts

Warmer weather is coming.  Soon we’ll be into spring and then on to Memorial Day, which is the gateway to the summer prep wardrobe – linen, poplin, seersucker and, of course, madras.  As with traditional retailers, thrift stores begin to shift focus to the coming season(s).  Today, while shopping at Unique Thrift Store in Riverdale, NY, I found not one, but two pairs of excellent madras plaid shorts.  One pair was the much sought after patchwork variety, a true summer prep staple, known as “go to hell shorts.”  Those bold enough to wear them simply could care less what anyone else thinks.

Patchwork Plaid Madras Shorts

Patchwork Plaid Madras Shorts

These flat front, Bermuda length shorts were made by Gap (not my favorite retailer by any means and hardly preppy on many things).  However, they got it right with these shorts made of 100% cotton India madras.  The stitching is first rate, and I’m willing to bet that side by side you couldn’t tell the difference between this pair and ones  from much more expensive outlets such as J. Press, Brooks Brothers or O’Connell’s.  The asking price for mine:  $14.00.  Brooks asks about $90 to $100 for theirs.

Detail of Patchwork Plaid Madras Shorts

Detail of Patchwork Plaid Madras Shorts

With a navy blue Lacoste or Polo shirt (or even a white button down), paired with a surcingle belt, these madras shorts will look great in summer.  It’s unusual to find madras of any kind in a thrift store.  So when you see it, snap it up.  It won’t be around long.   It’s even more rare to come across multiple madras items on one expedition, but I was lucky this time.  This second pair I found was flat front in Bermuda length with a basic plaid pattern — not patchwork — from Land’s End.  The price was $14.00 as well.  For another $9.00, I picked up a white 100% cotton oxford cloth button down from Ralph Lauren.  It was in perfect condition!

100% Cotton India Madras Shorts from Land’s End

Nearly All Thrift Store Combination

Thrifting starts to get interesting once you’ve assembled the backbone of your wardrobe.  Then you can begin trying different combinations of jackets, ties, shirts and pants – all with comfort, functionality, season and overall style in mind.  Certain pieces will be interchangeable and will work well with many other items.

I found a combination that I really like, and nearly all of it is from thrift store purchases:  tweed sport coat is a 3-button model from Brooks Brothers ($19.00), wool/cashmere sweater from Brooks Brothers ($9.99), button down from Land’s End ($5.00) and the khakis (not shown) are J. Crew ($8.00).  The only item that was not a thrift store purchase was the bow tie.  It’s from J. Press, but I got it on sale for $37.00 (regular $55.00).  Sometimes you need to get just the right item in a retail store, and virtually no amount of thrift store expeditions will produce it.  That was the case with the pattern on the bow tie, which brings all the colors and patterns together in a sharp and very preppy combination.  Total cost:  $78.99 (or the price of ONE Brooks Brothers button down oxford cloth shirt at retail).  Think about that!