Used to be that corduroy was for your dad. Or your grandad. Corduroy was librarians and dust and stuffy rooms. Men with grey beards, worn over fisherman jumpers. Men sat at large wooden desks marking papers about Foucault (I just googled Foucault; don’t bother) and eating lunches consisting of nothing but tinned tuna, maybe an apple too if it’s a tough day. It was boring, lifeless, drab. God, so drab. And sad. Think of the driest Dry Dick you can think of: hold him in your mind’s eye. What’s he wearing? It’s corduroy, innit.
But like everything, it’s come back around. This autumn-winter, as the sky outside darkens and the price of umbrellas surreptitiously rises, as the allure of a pub garden lessens and that of a big, raging fire gives you a big, raging boner, it is the autumn-winter of the cord. The warm feel of it on your hand, the way it ages around you like a well-loved sofa: all of it. Class. And, as the world’s first premium corduroy brand, Swedish label The Cords & Co, have opened their new store in Soho, we wanted you to be ready.
Now: put the kettle on, knock yourself up a nice cup of tea (use the good mug), and settle in for our handy guide to corduroy:
(OK. First thing’s first: you can skip this part if you don’t want to know literally fucking everything about corduroy. Two or three rolls of the mouse scroll-wheel should do it. Maybe two swipes up with your thumb.)
The history of corduroy is… colourful. The fabric as we know it comes from the ancient ‘fustian’ weave which was first manufactured by Ancient Egyptians in around 200AD in Fustat, near Cairo, and entered the European mainland thanks to those stylish-ass Italians. Fair play, Italy. Henry VIII used to love to wear expensive Naples fustian in the 16th Century while he was dying of gout and blood-lust, and legendary highwayman Dick Turpin ordered some brand spanking new fustian jawns to wear specially for his own execution in 1739.
The word ‘corduroy’ itself came soon after, from the French cord du roi (‘cord of the king’) as it was a popular fabric for French royal servants uniforms in the 17th and 18th centuries. Around this sort of time, manufacture began at scale around the UK and, to this day, corduroy is known as ‘Manchester’ in Sweden (like them The Cords & Co. lads) and much of the British colonies because the city was once well known for its world-class cotton factories.
The lines - or cords, I guess - of corduroy are called ‘wale’ from the Anglo-Saxon word walu which meant ‘to mark with stripes’… as in the raised welts produced by the stroke of a whip… which is quite fucked up, but anyway, like Captain Ahab once said: it’s the wale that matters.
The width of the wale - and the spacing between each - is vital. Known as ‘pinwale’, the more closely packed the wale the more formal the item, giving you a nice textured effect that you can work easily into your wardrobe. APC’s black cord trousers are perhaps our favourite exponent of the ol’ pinwale. And, on the other end of the spectrum, the opposite is also true: the less wale, the more casual the fit - eight wale per inch (inches is how it’s measured) would give you a nice pair of slouchy trousers like you’re a grumpy French painter or Larry David or a classic professorial jacket like on Bobby Redford above.
As Esquire notes, if you are, shall we say, slightly on the thicc side, you should go for a thinner wale: and again, the opposite is also true. Thicker wale can be quite voluminous, looser fitting, and so if you’ve got a bit of heft about you, it might as get ‘a bit much’.
HOW MUCH CORDUROY IS TOO MUCH CORDUROY?
I’m glad you asked. Seen for much of its life as a durable workwear material, corduroy is hardy but not that fussed when it comes to modern concerns like breathability. It’s thick weave keeps heat in and cold out, which is good for winter, but does require a a few calculations, often done in the morning, staring exhausted into the mirror at your own fallow face, with only a cursory glance out the window to the outside world while you pretend to listen to author Ali Smith on Desert Island Discs, and so can lead to complication. Allow me to make it very fucking simple for you:
Wear one piece at a time.
That’s it. Go up or down. Top or bottom. Jacket, coat, shirt, trousers, shorts (if you must) - just pick a solitary item. Whatever you pick, balance it out by going pretty airy the other side. We all love Wes Anderson but don’t dare double-corduroy unless you’re feeling particularly, armpit-ularly unassailable, or else you’re going to end up being one of those awful people who passes out on the Tube and makes everyone late for work.
(Never an excuse for a corduroy hat, though. Sorry.)
HOW TO WEAR IT
Congrats on making it this far. When dressing up corduroy, look for pinwale. As previously mentioned: the more wale per inch, the more structural integrity per inch - making sure that things keep a slightly more tailored feel. Cord is quite an inherently casual material, so think narrow: narrow wale, narrower tailoring. Although wider-leg trousers are in, keep things slim here. (Also: it’s easier to match a corduroy suit-jacket with non-cord trousers. The other way ‘round gets a bit messy. Not sure why; just is.)
When dressing it down, you’re alright to freestyle a bit, but try to avoid wearing anything too casual with it. Like, you can wear jersey tracksuit bottoms with lots of things, these days, but corduroy is not one of them. Jersey and cord = bad. But somehow satin-y tracksuit bottoms are OK? It’s more art than science, but one thing is for sure: if you’ve got one standout texture, keep everything else around it quite simple: wide wale coat, simple denim, plain white T-shirt.
More than one left-field item per outfit and you’re basically one of those bloggers who stands outside shows at Fashion Week dressed as Gonzo in Muppets From Space.
(Main Image: DJ Harvey for The Cords & Co)