The material, known as the madras, is named after its place of origin, Madras, India. The origins of the Madras lie in the pre-emancipation days of St. Lucia, when African slaves on the island would don the colourful dress during feast days. Beginning in the late 17th century, slaves on the island were forced to wear the livre of the estate to which they belonged. Normally a single colour, one piece item, originally worn as a sarong, later becoming a simple tunic with holes for the arms and head, and a simple rope belt. During Sundays and holidays, the slaves could normally wear what they wished, and through monies earned through selling produce from small plots of land, they would often buy colourful cloth. On feast days and special occasions, free women and slaves would wear the colourful clothes, now known as Creole dress.
Towards the end of the 18th century the Indian cotton known as 'muchoir madras' became popular amongst the Creole women, and eventually replaced the white cotton head kerchief. The material was soon used for scarfs and then the 'jupe' or skirt. With the fashion for ribbons becoming popular, women added them to the lace on the arms and the neck of their chemise. The chemise, once fashionably long, became shorter until replaced by a blouse and petticoat, but still with the threaded ribbons.
The Madras today is almost identical to the traditional costumes worn by other former French colonies of the Caribbean, including the neighbouring islands of Martinique, Guadeloupe and Dominica. In 2004 a national awareness campaign was launched by the St. Lucian government during the 25th anniversary of the country's Independence. Both the Madras and the Wob Dwyiet, recognised as symbols of the country, were included in this campaign.