Style Defined: Ancient Madder

Ancient madder is not an antiquated way of being pissed off. Rather, it has to do with dyes and ties.

Ancient madder accessories are something of an anomaly in the menswear world. They’re relatively unknown to the general public, yet revered by sartorial enthusiasts. They’re also classic and distinctive, but most folks can’t tell you where the name comes from or why they’re so distinguishable.

So let’s break this down from the beginning, starting with the word ‘madder.’

ancient madder tie

Turns out, it has nothing to do with being mad (ha, obviously). It’s also not a mysterious or ancient term. In fact, it’s just the name of a plant. More significantly, it’s the common name for the plant, Rubia, which is used to make dyes.

And that’s the first part of the equation – natural, madder dyes. The dyes are distinctive, both in color and physical effect.

The colors are oversaturated and dark – think mustards, forest greens and burgundies – and the shade is dusty and faded. In fact, while the ‘ancient’ part of the name is unexplained, some think it refers to the most faded end of the color spectrum.

Ancient madder ties are always printed on a twill silk fabric treated with ‘gum arabic.’ The madder dyes combined with the gum silk create a characteristic handfeel that is uniquely soft and chalky.

ancient madder tie

| BRIAN WEARS | Saks Fifth Avenue blazer, Al Bazar shirt, Yves Saint Laurent pants, Tie c/o Fort Belvedere, Rolex Datejust watch, Briefcase c/o Maxwell Scott, Oliver Peoples sunglasses, Loafers c/o Tod’s | PHOTOGRAPHY | by Rob McIver Photo

The second part of the ancient madder equation is the pattern.

While occasionally seen in geometric patterns, ancient madder almost always comes in paisley. The softness of the dyed colors lends subtlety to the intricate designs, giving them dignity, class, and a note of sobriety. The result is a look that is visually interesting yet still respectable in all but the most conservative of circles.

How about their place in the canon of menswear history?

Like a lot of menswear classics, ancient madder ties were born in England, but truly found their place on Ivy League campuses during the mid-20th century.

ancient madder tie

As the distinctive Ivy Style has faded over time, so has the abundance of madder ties, along with the men that appreciate them. Yet, for those that still rock the style, the classic prep connotation remains. Combine a tweed suit, oxford shirt and an ancient madder tie for an unmistakably classic Ivy look.

These days, Drake’s still makes true ancient madder pieces, as do a few of the American prep staples like J.Press and our friend Raphael at Fort Belvedere. Otherwise, finding authentic ancient madder has turned into an exercise in thrifting or combing estate sales.

ancient madder tie

Of course, you can find imitations – paisley ties in those distinct dark and dusty colors aren’t that hard to find. But if you’re a true enthusiast, you’ll hold out for the real deal.

Thanks for reading.

Stylishly Yours,

Adam Lehman
He Spoke Style

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