The real deal is known as "bleeding madras" because of the vegetable dyes traditionally used. With each wear and wash, the colors blend to create unique, muted patterns. While it was something of a fad in the '50s, much of today's madras is colorfast.
It started as an economical way of using leftover scraps, but was adopted by color-loving preps who appreciated more pops of plaid for their buck.
Named after its southeast Indian birthplace, Madras the city was founded by the British in the 17th century and officially renamed to Chennai in 1996. Influenced by the tartans worn by Scottish soldiers, local weavers started making plaids out of lightweight yet durable cotton. Leave it to a city just 12 degrees north of the equator to create the ideal summer fabric.