The corduroy comeback

Model 3 wearing Dark Brown Cord Jacket from Samuel Windsor

The ‘corduroy crisis’ is over
Featured image: Dark Brown Cord Jacket from Samuel Windsor

Corduroy is back. Modern styling makes this comfortable, hard-wearing fabric a must for the well-dressed man. Forget dowdy – corduroy looks great in a multitude of colours. Read on to discover why now is the time to welcome cords back into your wardrobe.

Corduroy’s image issues

Does the word corduroy conjure images of baggy brown trousers and jackets with leather elbow patches? The beige corduroy explosion of the 1970s is largely responsible for corduroy’s fusty image problem. But it wasn’t always like that.

Originally called “cord du roi” or “King’s cord”, corduroy originated in France. During the 17th century, it was the uniform of Royal French servants. By the 18th century the fabric had become popular with the hunting, fishing and shooting set, and as time went by, it also found favour with gentlemen farmers and urban workers.

The smart set adopted corduroy for leisure wear in the 20th century, but its warmth and durability also made it ideal for the military and the women’s land army. Fast forward to the 1960s and cord became an anti-establishment symbol. But it was the 1970s when this versatile fabric went viral. Clare of Tinsmiths’ Cuttings describes what happened:

“During this decade people of all ages, classes and colours swathed themselves in cord of every shade then lounged on their corduroy clad sofas!”

It was overkill that killed off cords, but use it sparingly and you’ll find it can really bring your look to life. Fashion blogger Joseph Aaron of Lions and Wardrobes says:

“Over the last few years [corduroy] has gone from the realm of badly dressed Geography teachers to being undeniably cool, this season the fabric has gone from strength to strength and is available from trousers to shirts to outer-wear.”

What is the wale?

Red corduroy material

Image source: Shutterstock
The wider the cord the lower the wale

Corduroy is made from twisted cotton fibres woven together so that they lie parallel giving the fabric its ridged texture.

The width of the cord gives the size of the wale – the number of ridges per inch. The lower the wale, the thicker the width of the ridges. Standard cord tends to range between 10 -12 wales, lower wale fabrics are sometimes used for corduroy trousers and furniture, then there’s high wale needle cord, usually reserved for shirts and jackets.

Cord of many colours

Model 4 wearing a Camel Cord Jacket

Corduroy comes in many different colours
Featured product: Camel Cord Jacket from Samuel Windsor

A fabric as tactile as corduroy surely deserves to be seen – bold hues will lend your look a stylish splash of colour. The guys at the Middle Class Handbook agree:

“Burgundy/Plum – suggests a touch of sartorial elegance (unless you call them “maroon”), and of course you can slop as much Cab Sauv on them as you like. Handy.”

Cord trousers in particular look marvellous in mustard yellow. Wear them with brown brogues and a tweed jacket for full effect.


Model 2 wearing Olive Cord Jacket from Samuel Windsor

Look dapper in a cord jacket
Featured product: Olive Cord Jacket from Samuel Windsor

Many corduroy jackets feature an unstructured fit which works well as long as you keep the classic crumpled look for casual wear or sharpen it up with a crisp cotton shirt and knitted tie, moleskin trousers or dark jeans and a shiny pair of tan brogues.

For a more modern vibe, look for a more fitted cord jacket, or alternatively, a corduroy cropped bomber or Harrington is a great way to give this time-honoured fabric a modern twist.


Man in brown corduroy trousers

Image source: Samuel Windsor
Take care that your cords suit the occasion

Corduroy trousers are surprisingly versatile. As Jake of St James Style says, they’re “as appropriate with a soft shirt and scruffy jumper as they are with a tie and a blue blazer”. But do avoid oversized or ill-fitting cords as they can be very aging.

For winter wear, choose jumbo cords. During the summer, needle cords are a better option. Made from lightweight fabric, the high wale gives them a luxurious velvety look and feel without being too warm.

For snappy dressing blogger Karlmond of Mr.Boy, cord is not just one of his favourite fabrics, it’s a vital addition to his wardrobe.

“Having a pair of navy cord trousers to me is just as essential as having a pair of black skinny jeans.”

Which corduroy classics have you welcomed into your wardrobe? We’d love to know, so join in the conversation on our Facebook page!

Posted in Men's trousers.