What is corduroy?

Cord trousers from Samuel Windsor - Infinitely comfortable, cord is also hard wearing and smart

Infinitely comfortable, cord is also hard wearing and smart
Image source: Cord trousers from Samuel Windsor

How well do you know your corduroy? Warm, comfortable, and when you wear it right, undeniably stylish, this versatile fabric has ancient origins. Here we take a look at cord – what it is, how it’s made, and most importantly, how to rock the look.

How is corduroy made?

Cord shirts from Samuel Windsor

Cord is a versatile fabric used for trousers, shirts, jackets and caps
Image source: Cord shirt in camel from Samuel Windsor

Cord is a member of a family of fabrics called Fustian. The name comes from the ancient Egyptian city of Al-Fusṭāṭ, now a suburb of Cairo. Fustian describes materials made from twisted yarns which are woven into a base fabric, then cut to produce a raised, sheared nap. Velvet, velvetine, and moleskin are other popular Fustian fabrics. Sometime around 200AD, these Egyptian cotton cloths made their way to Italy and Spain before eventually becoming popular right across Europe and beyond.

Some say corduroy gets its name from the French, “cord du roi”, or “cloth of the king”. But in fact, it was French courtiers rather than the king himself who wore cord, the monarch being clad in the more expensive silk fabrics of the time.

What types of corduroy are there?

Jumbo cord trousers in chocolate brown from Samuel Windsor

This 8 wale cord is hard-wearing yet super soft.
Image source: Jumbo cord trousers in chocolate brown from Samuel Windsor

Cord is made up of ridges of cut pile which all lie the same way, creating a nap that shines when smoothed flat, and has a smokey texture when buffed in the opposite direction. Naturally tactile, it’s a unique look which is casual but always classy.

The number of ridges per inch of fabric is called the ‘wale,’ and different kinds of cord have different wale counts. Needle cord or pin cord is the finest, containing somewhere around 16 – 18 ridges per inch. At the opposite end of the scale, jumbo cord has only 6 or 8 wales per inch. The most wearable cord cloth contains about 10 to 12 wales per inch of fabric – a happy medium that drapes well.

Does corduroy keep you warm?

Samuel Windsor cord trousers, jackets and shirts are ideal for layering and do keep you warm

Cord is ideal for layering
Image source: Samuel Windsor cord trousers

Thanks to its ability to trap air between its fibres, cord is incredibly warm for a cotton fabric. It’s also extremely hard wearing which is why, during the 19th and early 20th centuries, cord woven in the Lancashire cotton mills became the go to fabric for workwear among the labouring classes. Very soon this durable fabric of the working classes grew popular with the metropolitan elite. Cord was the perfect fabric for keeping the cold out as you negotiated the drafty rooms of a stately home!

For a nod to the workers of yesteryear, you can’t go wrong with a rugged cord shirt. A wonderfully warm garment for the colder months, it’s a casual winner too, looking great when you wear it over a plain tee with jeans and boots. Go for a bold colour to really lift your ensemble.

How to wear corduroy

Put your misconceptions aside - cord is super cool. Dark olive cord jacket from Samuel Windsor

Put your misconceptions aside – cord is super cool
Image source: Dark olive cord jacket from Samuel Windsor

For a unique look that harks back to the finest days of Edwardian costume, a full cord suit is an extremely elegant way to dress – but it’s not for everybody. If you can carry off a look as striking as this then more power to you. For most of us though, a cord suit is a little overwhelming.

The best advice is to go for cord separates and to wear one piece at a time. Because cord is a textured fabric, you should always pair it with other, smoother fabrics. A pair of cord trousers goes very well with a blazer or moleskin jacket.

Cord trousers also form the basis of a warm and tactile casual ensemble. Pair them with a soft tattersall shirt, and fisherman’s sweater and round off the look with a pair of rugged country brogue boots.

For a smarter look that’s perfect for meals out, date night, or alternative work wear, a cord jacket looks very smart when worn over chinos or a pair of smart indigo jeans.

Do experiment with colour – as well as subtle browns and tans, cord comes in wonderful clarets, olive and bottle greens and navy. It’s a fabric which, because of its shimmering texture, makes an excellent statement piece for parties, fine dining, or theatre nights. For formal events you’ll want to pair it with a plain white cotton shirt, chinos and smart shoes.

How to care for corduroy

Needle cord trousers look good in summer and winter. Samuel Windsor needle cord trousers in sand

Needle cord trousers look good in summer and winter
Image source: Samuel Windsor needle cord trousers in sand

Most corduroy goes in the washing machine along with your other coloureds and, as long as you choose the correct washing cycle, will give you years of faithful service. Do always check the label before washing as some garments must be washed at lower temperatures to protect the colour finish.

Cord jackets are sometimes dry clean only. Made from traditional half-canvas construction, washing in water can damage the stiffening which gives your garment its figure-enhancing shape.

To care for your cord jacket on a day-to-day basis, brush it regularly. Buff against the nap to loosen and remove dirt particles before brushing with the nap to return the garment to its natural finish. Use long, fluid motions, and avoid scrubbing. If dirt is particularly hard to remove, use a damp sponge to loosen it, leaving to dry thoroughly before brushing. Always use quality hangers and suit covers to keep your cord jacket looking its best.

Cord really is a stunning product. Stylish, hardwearing, warm, and super-tactile, it walks a perfect line between style and comfort.

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