The Long and Bumpy History of Corduroy (2023)

The Long and Bumpy History of Corduroy (1)

A version of this post originally appeared on Tedium, a twice-weekly newsletter that hunts for the end of the long tail.

There’s a new all-corduroy fashion line out there called The Cords & Co, which is in the midst of rolling out seven dedicated corduroy stores globally.

Speaking to The Evening Standard, founder Michael Söderlindh emphasized that he built an all-corduroy brand because the public is ready.

“There are lots of brands that have done their take on corduroy but there has never been a brand that has completely dedicated themselves to it,” Söderlindh said. “I am convinced that people are looking for a lasting alternative to denim. We want people all over the world to rediscover their love for corduroy.”

It sounds like an absurd, perhaps even improbable idea for a clothing line, yet here we are in 2017, at the cusp of embracing once-unfashionable cords all over again.

According to Refinery29, in fact, “the corduroy comeback is in full swing.”

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Though its popularity has waxed and waned over the decades, the fabric certainly has its staunch devotees. Take Miles Rohan, the the founder of the Corduroy Appreciation Club. Here’s how, back in 2006, explained to Maximum Fun in 2006 why he’s such an unabashed corduroy fan: “If I’m not wearing at least one piece of corduroy, I don’t feel right. The repetition, the parallel lines, the thickness I’ve always thought, provided a kind of order and support. And because I’m not entirely the most orderly person, it helps. But even when I was little I loved corduroy. It made me feel grown up and sophisticated. I’m more of a pin wale person, but at times I love a nice wide wale.”

(Note his use of the term “wale,” the common terminology for the number of ridges per inch that a piece of corduroy has.)

Now, corduroy didn’t naturally start out in its gracefully tufted form.

Corduroy’s roots are in the ancient Egyptian city of Al-Fustat. Located near the Nile river, the city became something of a ground zero of tough woven fabrics around the second century.

It also, at least for a while, played a significant historic role—in 641, it became the first Arab settlement in Egypt and served as the country’s capital for two separate periods totaling more than 300 years. But in the midst of the Crusades, the city’s top political official ordered the city burned in a desperate attempt to prevent its wealth from being stolen.

Since that time, Al-Fustat has lost its high level of influence in the region, as nearby Cairo, which was only founded in 969 AD, usurped it in the 12th century to become Egypt’s capital.

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As it turned out, this lost city’s biggest legacy in the Western world was the predecessor fabric to corduroy, which became known as fustian, a clear riff on the Egyptian city’s name. It’s a heavy cloth that works well for things like pants, but unlike corduroy, it doesn’t feature any raised cords.

The 1870s textbook Textile Fabrics highlighted this lineage.

“Fustian, of which we still have two forms in velveteen and corduroy, was originally wove at Fustat on the Nile, with a warp of linen thread and a woof of thick cotton, so twilled and cut that it showed on one side a thick but low pile; and the web thus managed took its name of Fustian from that Egyptian city,” the Very Rev. Daniel Rock D.D. wrote.

The fabric at one point was closely associated with the Catholic Church, after a Cistercian abbot forced chasubles—the outer vestments worn by priests—to be made out of basic linen or fustian, rather than more expensive materials. The fabric had a tendency to be both associated with high-minded pompousness (see the fact that Shakespeare turned fustian into an adjective of that nature) and working-class living. And this was before corduroy even got any cords.

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In the book The Condition of the Working-Class in England in 1844, German philosopher Friedrich Engels noted how common fustian fabric was among the people he was writing about.

“The men wear chiefly trousers of fustian or other heavy cotton goods, and jackets or coats of the same,” Engels recalled. “Fustian has become the proverbial costume of the working-men, who are called ‘fustian jackets,’ and call themselves so in contrast to the gentlemen who wear broadcloth, which latter words are used as characteristic for the middle class.”

The book doesn’t mention of corduroy, alas, but its modern-day form came from a similar working-class roots—and is widely believed to have gotten its corded magic in Manchester, England. At least that’s the claim the corduroy hawkers at Brooks Brothers make.

An 1891 edition of the Transactions of the Philological Society, a London-based group, puts the creation of corduroy at between 1776 and 1787, though there is a 1774 mention of imported corduroys from Britain in the archive.

In her 1973 Chicago Tribune article on corduroy, Marylin Stitz mentioned that the name of the material is French in origin, standing for an anglicized “Cord du Roi.” The Philological Society, however, did not share that view.

The philological group, which studies the development of languages, stated that the French variation of the word was in fact referred to as “the king’s cord,” but in an already Anglicized way—kings-cordes, to be specific. Meanwhile, other elements of the English language didn’t make it to France.

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“The word duroy as the name of a coarse woollen fabric, manufactured with verges and druggets in the West of England in [Robinson Crusoe author Daniel] Defoe’s time, has evidently no connexion,” the society explained.

The society additionally discussed the possibility that the fabric was named after someone named Corderoy, only for that linguistic meaning to get morphed slightly.

We’ll likely never know for sure because history is hazy on this point, but a 1772 mention of “corderoys,” in reference to the fabric being imported, supports the claim, for what it’s worth.

It’s either that, possibly, or that someone saw the cords on these pants and thought it fit perfect with “duroy.”

Corduroy may be the ultimate always-going-in-and-out-of-fashion fabric.

To prove the point, we’re going to play a game here. Below are quotes from three trend pieces about how corduroy is coming back into style. Guess the year for each:

  1. “It’s amazing. People are coming in like crazy and asking for corduroy slacks and sport coats—even with patches on the sleeves.”
  2. “Its royal roots may be in question, but there’s no debating that corduroy has made a grand comeback.”
  3. ”One of the ‘new faces’ on the fashion scene this season is corduroy. Although this cotton is a traditional classic, new treatments give it a lease on life.”

If you guessed 1994, 2002, and 1952, you are correct.

The Long and Bumpy History of Corduroy (6)

Of course, corduroy wasn’t always in comeback mode. If you were, however, to set a single decade as “peak corduroy,” which decade might you choose?

If you said the 1970s, ding ding ding we have an answer! In 1973, the Chicago Tribune’s Marylin Stitz really nailed the interest in corduroy at the time:

When you think about transitional dresses, playtime outfits, and back to school togs, one fabric comes to mind. Corduroy.

Why? Because it’s luxurious and functional at the same time. It can look dressed up or dressed down. It holds its shape and is easy to care for. It adapts well to clothing for your entire family. It’s durable—and economical.

As for the 21st-century resurgence, it appears modest so far. Rohan of the Corduroy Appreciation Society started an all-corduroy online store in 2016, which sells tufted ties and jackets. All outfits are designed by Rohan, with cloth coming from the birthplace of modern corduroy, Northern England.

As neat as corduroy is, it doesn’t generate a ton of die-hards. Folks who are really into the fabric, like Rohan, are few and far between. Corduroy is the fashion industry’s variation on the McRib—an inoffensive-enough product that retailers can go back to when they need a short-term hit, something that has just enough novelty to it that people will buy it because they’ve read somewhere that corduroy is making a comeback.

For the rest of us, we don’t really think in terms of wales all that often.

A version of this post originally appeared on Tedium, a twice-weekly newsletter that hunts for the end of the long tail.

The Long and Bumpy History of Corduroy (7)
Pants WeekSeptember 18–24


What is the history of corduroy? ›

Corduroy's earliest ancestor was a cotton weave known as “fustian” which was developed in the Egyptian city of Fustat in 200 BC. It was locally popular for centuries, but it soared during the Medieval period when Italian merchants introduced the fabric to nobles throughout Western Europe.

What are the ridges on corduroy called? ›

The ridges of piled yarn on corduroy fabric are known as wales, and these wales vary significantly in width. A piece of corduroy fabric's “wale number” is determined by the number of wales contained in a single inch of fabric, and standard corduroy fabric has around 11-12 wales.

What does the corduroy symbolize? ›

Corduroy reached peak popularity in the 1970s, where it was worn as a symbol of anti-establishment.

What year did corduroy come out? ›

Corduroy is a 1968 children's book written and illustrated by Don Freeman, and published by the Viking Press.

What time period was corduroy popular? ›

Although it has existed for a long time and has been used in Europe since the 18th century, only in the 20th century did it become global, notably expanding in popularity during the 1970s.

Is corduroy 60s or 70s? ›

Corduroy was the fabric of the Seventies, used in everything from dresses to skirts and trousers.

What are 3 characteristics of corduroy? ›

corduroy, strong durable fabric with a rounded cord, rib, or wale surface formed by cut pile yarn. The back of the goods has a plain or a twill weave. Corduroy is made from any of the major textile fibres and with one warp and two fillings.

Why is corduroy ribbed? ›

Cord is a woven fabric which has raised, textured ribs on the right side that run parallel to the selvedge. The ribs are formed by cutting the threads in one direction and the result is a hard wearing fabric that's soft to the touch.

How many types of corduroy are there? ›

There are different types of corduroys, which are classified by the number of lengthwise pile rows per inch—feathercord has 20-25; pinwale has 16-23; regular wale has 14; wide wale has 6-10; and broad wale has 3-5.

What makes corduroy unique? ›

Corduroy (sometimes spelled corderoy) is a twill weave fabric, which means the threads are woven together in diagonal lines with thick vertical ribs. Corduroy is thick, durable, ridged, and cozy, and has the unique ability to look both dressed up and comfortable at the same time.

What is corduroy named after? ›

Both the fabric and its origin are fuzzy. Loads of experts agree that the word “corduroy” comes literally from the French words “Cord du Roi” meaning “cord for Kings.” Textile archivists believe the fabric's original conception, whatever it was called, originate in Fustat, Egypt in 200 AD.

What are the themes of corduroy? ›

  • Acceptance/Belonging.
  • Bravery/Curiosity.
  • Luxury vs. Simplicity.

Does anyone wear corduroy anymore? ›

If you've also noticed a lot more corduroy and wondered if corduroy pants are in fashion in 2023, the answer is yes! Here's a look at some surprisingly chic corduroy pants and ways to style them.

What grade level is corduroy? ›

Corduroy (40th Anniversary Edition)
Interest LevelReading LevelReading A-Z
Grades P - 3Grades 2 - 4K
Sep 4, 2008

When did Princess Diana wear corduroy? ›

Princess Diana with Prince Charles in Scotland in May 1981

The Princess wore a striped pink sweater with corduroy pants and Hunter boots.

What is a Dobby corduroy? ›

Dobby, or dobbie, is a woven fabric produced on the dobby loom, characterised by small geometric patterns and extra texture in the cloth. The warp and weft threads may be the same colour or different. Satin threads are particularly effective in this kind of weave as their texture will highlight the pattern. Dobby.

Is corduroy classy? ›

Corduroy is casual.

Depending on its cut and style, the formality of corduroy pants is about on par with jeans and khakis. And while corduroy garments of all kinds can be dressed up or down a little, their dressiness tops out around the “smart-casual” level. It's a fabric with laid-back vibes.

Is corduroy timeless? ›

Corduroy is one timeless textile. The material has a past that stretches back 300 years and since then, it has enjoyed several spells of ribbed renaissance.

Why was corduroy so popular in the 70s? ›

Corduroy remained popular after WWI and was often associated with intellectuals, beatniks and professors. In the 1960s and 1970s, corduroy boomed among the hippy generation as an anti-establishment symbol, possibly because of its working class roots.

Is corduroy a 90s thing? ›

The decade of the 1990s is making a major fashion comeback in styles from slip dresses to grunge-inspired plaid flannel. Another throwback Nineties trend we love is the return of lush, touchable fabrics like velvet and corduroy in everything from dresses to jumpsuits.

Did they wear corduroy in the 50s? ›

Corduroy thus became a super fad in the mid '50s. Everything came in corduroy, and it came in every color imaginable.

What are classic corduroy colors? ›

Corduroy Colors

The most versatile colors include brown, tan, olive, khaki, sand, black and navy.

What are the rules for corduroy? ›

A key rule for corduroy (or any visibly textured fabric) is to wear one piece at a time. You don't want a corduroy jacket over a corduroy shirt, or with corduroy trousers in a different color. A matched corduroy suit is an exception here, but that should never be paired with a corduroy shirt either.

Is corduroy warm or cool? ›

Because it's warm and very flexible, corduroy is mostly used for trousers, but designers have realised that it can be used for other pieces as well, such as a full suit and jackets. It goes without saying that corduroy is a great fabric for this winter.

What is the best thread for corduroy? ›

If you are using a 100% Cotton Corduroy, be sure to use a Cotton thread. For other fibre combinations, especially those with Polyester or a stretch fibre, use a Polyester thread, as this type is a little stronger and less prone to snapping, perfect for stretch fabrics.

What is 8 whale corduroy? ›

This fabric has 8 rows per inch. Purple 8 Wale Corduroy Fabric is an excellent quality Corduroy Fabric with 8 rows per inch made by Rose & Hubble Fabrics. 144cm wide and composed of 100% cotton. Corduroy Fabric is a substantial and dependable material with a beautiful, sumptuous appearance.

What is 11 Wale corduroy? ›

A beautiful mid-weight corduroy ideal for trousers or dresses that require some structure like a pinafore. Also suitable for lightweight jackets. This is 11 wale, which means there are 11 ribs per inch.

What is the difference between needlecord and corduroy? ›

Unlike normal corduroy fabrics, needlecord has much finer ribs, making it a more lightweight fabric compared to regular corduroy. As it is so fine, needlecord is the perfect choice for garments such as dresses, skirts, waistcoats, dungarees and more, with a much shorter pile than regular corduroy.

What is 21 whale corduroy? ›

The needlecord is a very soft but durable fabric made from 100% cotton. Corduroy Fabric is very distinctive with a subtle risen striped texture. This range is a 21 wale Corduroy so has a very fine traditional striped pile.

What does 21 Wales corduroy mean? ›

Pinwale Corduroy (Up to 21 Wales)

This type of corduroy is the opposite of elephant corduroy. Each square inch of pinwale corduroy has many small ridges. Many of its finest designs can have up to 21 wales every inch. The finer pinwale corduroy is used for children's and baby clothing and is great for sewing soft toys.

Why is corduroy so soft? ›

True corduroy is made from cotton and is woven into “cords,” or ribs and ridges, to create a ripple effect with a lush velvety texture. Some corduroy fabrics are a blend of cotton and polyester, which reduces creasing and wrinkling.

Does corduroy stretch over time? ›

The key is to go for a cloth that has a little structure to it – it needs to wear you a bit, does corduroy – and something that is quite close-cut (corduroy has a tendency to stretch).

Why do people like corduroy? ›

"It's a thick fabric, so it adds volume." While denim and corduroy are both made of cotton, corduroy is thicker, so it is also warmer.

Will corduroy be in style 2023? ›

Corduroy Separates

After a seasonal hiatus, corduroy pieces are very much back on the London fashion trend scene for 2023. Over a floral dress or paired with leather trousers, you'll think up countless ways to style this timeless blazer. This Reformation trouser will be the foundation of so many good outfits.

Does corduroy go out of style? ›

Men's corduroy trousers are unlikely to go out of style, especially since there are different ways to wear them. Corduroy trousers are made from cotton and are not necessarily a fabric.

Is corduroy preppy? ›

Corduroy pants are popular preppy favorites, and for a good reason.

Are corduroys dressier than jeans? ›

A If you work in an office where jeans are acceptable, then corduroys certainly are not too informal, since cords are a few steps more formal on the dressiness scale than jeans. The hierarchy of formality for trousers ranges from the most dressy, ones that are part of a suit, to the least dressy, jeans.

What year were corduroy dresses popular? ›

Corduroy dress

Corduroy originally gained popularity in the 1960s.

What happened to Princess Diana's choker? ›

Four-row Japanese pearl choker

The Princess first wore the choker during a state visit to the Netherlands in November 1982. The choker contains four rows of Japanese cultured pearls with a central diamond clasp. The piece is now being worn by the Princess of Wales who uses it as a loan from the King.

Did Diana refuse to wear Chanel? ›

While it was reported that Diana refused to wear the Chanel logo following her separation with Prince Charles – as the double C reminded her of Charles and his then-mistress Camilla – the royal actually continued wearing the fashion house's designs post-divorce, including on a trip to New York.

Why did Diana still wear her ring? ›

In order to keep up appearances for her sons, Princess Diana continued to wear her engagement and wedding rings, especially at public events.

Why was corduroy popular in the 70s? ›

Corduroy remained popular after WWI and was often associated with intellectuals, beatniks and professors. In the 1960s and 1970s, corduroy boomed among the hippy generation as an anti-establishment symbol, possibly because of its working class roots. Since the '70s, corduroy has gone in and out of style several times.

Is corduroy a Christmas story? ›

A classic holiday story about a teddy bear loved by children for 50 years. It's almost Christmas and Corduroy sits on a department store shelf, wishing he could be a child's holiday gift—but he's a plain bear, and nobody seems to notice him.

Was corduroy used in the 1800s? ›

By the late 1800s corduroy was woven with cotton and mass produced in factories in Europe and the United States. This made it more widely available and more people were able to enjoy it.

When was corduroy first popular? ›

Called the “poor man's velvet,” corduroy took off in real volume with the popularity of jeans in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when five pocket corduroy jeans or corduroy jackets hung in millions of closets. Levi's alone sold tens of millions of pairs of corduroy jeans by the early 1970s.

Who wrote a Christmas wish for corduroy? ›

What was the original name of A Christmas Story? ›

Jean Shepherd's book “In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash”, which “A Christmas Story” is based on, is a collection of semi-autobiographical short stories that Shepherd wrote for “Playboy” magazine during the 1960s.

What is the story of a boy called Christmas? ›

Do cowboys wear corduroy? ›

Cowboys also preferred wool trousers before Levis, wore corduroy hunting caps when they weren't wearing Stetsons and donned curly wool chaps that made them look more like animals than herders.


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