Mad About Plaid

too_much_plaidUsually I break out my flannel shirts right after Labor Day, but it is the middle of September and the weather has not changed. It is still summer in the city. I’m wearing my summer plaid.

My summer plaid are Madras. I didn’t plan to have a half-dozen Madras shirts hanging in my closet. I bought them, over the last two years, one at a time, unable to resist the patterns. All summer long, when I didn’t want to wear a T-shirt, but I didn’t want to wear a dress shirt, I threw on a Madras. Then I realized that Madras is as close as you can get to a summer flannel shirt. I love plaid.

I don’t understand how my personal style developed; how plaids got into my subconsciousness. If it is a butch thing, or a guy thing. Why plaid instead of stripes or paisley. Why plaid instead of Tattersall or gingham. How my child brain synthesized the idea of masculinity down into a plaid shirt. How I drifted into some sort of Ivy League goes hiking hybrid style.

madras-are-so-butchMy Madras are classic plaids; not the pastel Easter egg, flashy fluorescent, or psychedelic patchwork plaids. My plaids wouldn’t be out-of-place on flannel. The British brought the Scottish Tartan patterns with them to India, wove them into Madras cloth, and then spread them all over the rest of the British Empire. From India to Bermuda. Madras shorts, pants, jackets, and shirts made the jump to the U.S. in the 1950’s. They have been a preppy staple ever since. I only have the shirts. This article from Gentleman’s Gazette explains everything you might want to know about Madras.

I am lucky that authentic Madras shirts are still made. Even if they are not fashionable, they are still classic. They have not gone the way of bell bottoms or cargo pants. They are not a fashion crime, e.g. wearing over the calf tube socks with shorts.

I like timeless classic men’s fashion. I would like to wear out my favorites. To go back to a store and replace an object with the exact same item. The reality is slightly different. Lapels change, collars change, colors change, and the cut changes. There are a few classic outfits from each decade that could be worn today, but most outfits look dated. Men’s fashion changes more slowly than women’s, but it does change. A lot of guys don’t change with it.

I don’t want to be the middle-aged guy trying too hard to be cool. I don’t want to be the middle-aged guy wearing clothes that were in vogue in 1990. I don’t want to be the middle-aged guy wearing beige and gray. I know I’m at risk. This article from the Daily Mail explains why.

Two summers ago, on a humid Saturday morning, I was hanging out at the dog run with Gracie. I looked around and noticed that every other human was wearing either no socks, no-show socks, or really low-cut ankle socks, and that I was wearing Thorlo 1/4 ankle crews. They stuck up about two inches over my New Balance sneakers. Although not as bad a faux pas as tube socks, I realized that while I was not paying attention, everyone else was. My dilemma was to either continue wearing something that was clearly out of style (although in perfectly good condition), or go out and buy a lot of socks. I went to Paragon Sports and bought new socks.

The most recent style change that affects me is the slimming down and untucking of casual buttoned shirts. This isn’t new, but it is at critical mass. I’ve always tucked in my shirts and rolled up my sleeves to compensate for being short and having hips. Of my six Madras shirts, only two (custom-made) are short enough (and wide enough at the hips) to wear untucked in public. I will continue to wear the others tucked in, in the classic way, like a clueless middle-aged guy, because I love my plaid.

Notes: If you were expecting an update on Donna’s broken ankle, she is in residential rehab at Village Care doing two hours of physical therapy a day. I can walk there in twenty-minutes from our apartment. They allow me to take her out in a wheelchair; we have gone around the corner to eat, and across the street to see a documentary at the Film Forum (Black Panthers: Vanguard of a Revolution). Recovering from a broken ankle is boring, but I’m doing my best to amuse her.

14 thoughts on “Mad About Plaid

  1. PlainT

    I hate how fashion changes. Though I am back in women’s styles, it always bugged me that I couldn’t hold on to one thing for years. Mens’ styles are also more universal across ages, in particular preppy styles; for women, dress styles change noticeably from high school to college to grad school. I never could quite keep a handle on it.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      The classics for women are much dorkier – and you are right about it cutting across the generations a little more – except for urban street fashion (which is not my thing). I also found your last post interesting on the issue of figuring out which colors look good on you – since I am as the saying goes “pretty in pink” and handsome in some classic burgundies.

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      1. PlainT

        Hmm, yeah it’s interesting that “classic” for women isn’t as neutral as it is for men (by neutral I mean not associated with a specific age/socioeonomic group).

        Colors are actually super interesting. I’m posting about it soon.

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  2. Kris

    I have grown a serious aversion to plaid, as they were the only “manly-looking” shirts that fitted over the DD’s. Now I’m more into stripes and plain, with a tendency towards black. I pull out the plaid when I am in my cowboy mood – shoot, kick and pummel (only in my mind, though!) There is an article in a newspaper today with the headline, “Marriage makes you fat” – in essence that people give up bothering about their looks and health once they have landed the fish. My observation is that us trans* people start giving more attention to how we look in our new-found bodies. I certainly have. Hope you find enough entertainment to keep Donna from boredom and a speedy recovery to her (and lots of patience to you!) Take care, Jamie.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I have stripe dress shirts, and a lot of black too. But now that I’m not going into work everyday, I get to go for that casual in-between look – not work, not date night, not T-shirt, and I’ve ended up with a lot of plaid.
      Oddly, people I know notice and comment that I look “great” but don’t have a clue as to why I have suddenly started to pay attention to how I dress. That may be the next post.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Nothing about being trans is as easy as it looks or as easy as it should be. Every day I am thankful that I live in time and in a country where (no matter how hard it is) I can do what I’m doing. I still find it fascinating that some of my shirts increase the “sir” factor dramatically, and others do not.

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      1. The Final Rinse

        You are right, there are way worse places in the world to be trans, or queer. This is such a strong thing in me, that I would not survived long in many of those places.
        A nice Madras shirt is a very nice shirt. I went through a phase in my late 20’s, experimenting with men’s fashions. Through a friend who sells 1940’s and 50’s clothing, I discovered Madras, old Hawaiians, and bowling shirts.
        For me, the thing in the last year that has way increased my “ma’ams” (oh how I know that you love that word) is blonde hair. Well actually now white hair, because that is cheaper and easier to do. It is weird how these things work.

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  3. Lesboi

    I had an awesome madras shirt in college that barely fit me and I soon outgrew but it was fun while it fit. I love plaid too but I get the evil eye from Candace when I wear it because it makes me look too man-ish. She does not like plaid at all. Boo! Still, I own a couple plaid shirts that I get brave and wear out once in a while. Glad to hear Donna’s doing well.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      If you ever want to get another awesome madras shirt, they are out there! Donna used to give me the evil eye about plaid but like everything else, she got over it as long as the plaid was a nice color combination and fit properly. Anyway, looking man-ish is the whole point! And there is a big difference between looking like a guy who just threw anything on and a guy who actually looked in the mirror before he left the house. I’m aiming for the latter.
      There are some horrific pictures from the early 60’s of women wearing all sorts of madras stuff that we wouldn’t be caught dead in (peter pan collar shirts, knee length skirts, and capri’s). Makes me shudder to think about wearing them.

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      1. Lesboi

        OMG! Peter Pan collars, capri’s, skirts, puffy sleeves, frills down the front of the shirt. NO! These are deal breakers for me. I’m with you on the shudder except I think I also felt a little sick to my stomach for a second. I think I’m more freaked out by Peter Pan collars than big hairy spiders.

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  4. The butch

    Ah, plaid. I like it best for flannel shirts. I favor microcheck, stripes (both horizontal and vertical), Hawaiian shirts, seersucker, and übersoft muscle tees in jewel tones for summer. But I’m weird and a hipster doofus. GQB loves her some plaid, all seasons. I’ve been jazzing up her color palette a bit, pushing the edges of color with her. What’s weird is when we go out together. We have to make sure our plaids don’t clash. It’s quite comical, the texting of color swatches back and forth.

    Thinking good recovery thoughts in Donna’s general direction.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I have a whole mess of flannel shirts; the Madras are something new for me, but I’m hooked. Next summer I might get a striped seersucker shirt, but I’m always hesitant to buy ahead of season (I lost weight and I’m not convinced I’m going to keep it off even though it has been two years).
      Donna and I also have to check our outfits too before we go out – but mostly because she veers towards bright (red/purple/orange). I’m glad we live together – I’m the one who has to go back to the closet and change if I clash with her outfit (usually the request is to “dress up a little more”).

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