What is corduroy?

What is corduroy?

In a nutshell

Corduroy is a cloth with distinctive ridges, which makes for a textured and hard-wearing fabric. It’s traditionally a winter choice, since the thick material traps heat.

The history

Corduroy has a split personality. Because it’s warm, tough and fairly cheap to make, it’s been a staple in worker’s wardrobes since the 18th century. But the fabric also has a lustre and texture not unlike velvet – indeed, the two are made in similar ways – which has made corduroy a go-to fabric for designers as well. That tension is why it swings in and out of fashion so regularly – it was particularly popular in the 1950s and 1970s, and is enjoying a resurgence again today.

That might seem strange, considering the first thing corduroy brings to mind is geography teachers. But with the likes of director Wes Anderson and Pulp frontman-turned-DJ Jarvis Cocker championing the fabric, it’s lost its fustiness and become, well, quite cool. Which is good news for every other man, because it’s a great way to add depth to your wardrobe.

How to wear it well

Before attempting corduroy, you need to learn its language. The ridges are properly referred to as ‘wales’ – the higher the wale number, the finer the corduroy. Elephant wale, which is more common on sofas than trousers, has three or four wales per inch; pinwale, which is so fine it looks like velvet from a distance, has around 18. “Chunky cords make quite a big statement,” says Thread stylist Toby Standing. “Pinwale is easier to wear because it’s subtle.”

As a rule, heavier cords are for trousers and the finer wales work best on shirts and accessories. “Corduroy can be tricky, because anything in the middle is classic, but can also feel like something your grandfather would wear,” says Toby. “So it’s best to look for something a bit unexpected, like a trucker jacket or overshirt. It doesn’t have that association and the shapes are more interesting.”

Even if you dip a toe and decide you love corduroy, it’s still best to tread carefully. “A corduroy suit is a very full-on look,” says Toby. “A jacket can work well in darker colours, though, but keep things simple elsewhere. Indigo denim and a white shirt will help ground it, so it doesn’t feel like such a big statement.”