The Ups and Downs of Corduroy

Published 27/11/2022
By: xxx Published: d/m/Y

Jane Birkin wore it with a simple white tee adding a touch of innocence and Parisienne to the look. No doubt, Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, saw it as a tried-and-true wardrobe staple, that she often paired with a minimalistic, black turtleneck. Kate Moss did wear it as a ruby red blazer, in the company of Johnny Depp and more recently, in a muted brown skinny version. And the it girls of the seventies likely went to Studio 54 in silk slacks, but for the morning after, they probably chose … corduroy. Yes, we’re talking about cord- a legendary and versatile fabric, alongside denim, also known as Manchester cloth and poor man’s velvet.

So, to the important question: who will be wearing corduroy this winter? Well, just about everyone. Because this autumn/winter season all brands—be it Khaite, Cos or Acne Studios —all used the textile to stunning perfection, some of the garments with a price point that would make 18th Century corduroy-clad kings turn in their graves (Why kings? Well, we’ll return to the royalties later on.)

King of Pop Art: Andy Warhol. Image credit Pinterest.
Trending: Khaite Tanner double-breasted corduroy blazer.
This fall/winter’s favorite jacket is brown and corduroy. Hailey Bieber and Katie Holmes pairing it with baggy jeans and a maxi skirt respectively. Image courtesy Vogue.

What’s so intriguing about corduroy is that it’s a watershed, just like cilantro.

Corduroy could definitely be said to have a take-it-or-leave-it quality. The fact that, in modern times, corduroy has gone in and out of style several times and has been worn by all ages and classes, plays its part in that everyone seems to have an opinion about its raison d’être. Anyhow, one thing that we could all agree on is that every time it seems that corduroy has gone seriously out of fashion, it emerges again and gets a well-deserved update. 

Artist Auguste Rodin in his painter corduroy shirt.

Maybe you think for yourself that corduroy is a 20th century fashion phenomenon. You couldn’t be more wrong – its history actually spans over two thousand years. That explains why corduroy has amassed quite the laundry list of famous (and infamous) wearers – soldiers, sportsmen, mountain climbers, college professors, beat poets, surfers, hippies, artists, rockers, aristocrats and even children’s book characters.  You’ve likely seen it sported by the creative men’s clad of Steve McQueen, Mick Jagger, Pablo Picasso, Woody Allen, and Wes Anderson; by everyone from The Sundance Kid to The Talented Mr. Ripley. But to discover who the fabric’s most legendary fan was, all you have to do is look at the name. As the story goes corduroy stems from the French “corde du roi,” which translates into the cord of the King. Now the validity of that story is widely disputed, but there’s no question that the French and English aristocracy during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries sure did love their thick cord trousers.

A Working Class Uniform

Pablo Picasso dressed up in a black corduroy suit jacket and bow tie. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Filmmaker Wes Anderson in one of his many cords; a denim blue cord suit.

Corduroy has for sure left its marks in history to the point that it has reached legendary status alongside denim.

The history of corduroy though, reaches as far back as Egypt 200 B.C.when the rough ancestor of cord, Fustian (named after the city of Fustat) first surfaced on the scene. As trade grew over the centuries, Fustian made the leap into Europe and quickly infiltrated the clothing markets, thanks to its durable qualities. European royalty embraced the fabric, both for themselves to use for sporting gear and for their servants, who used the fabric in their daily uniforms. It was these characteristics that also helped corduroy make the leap from royal manors to the factories and farms of the countryside and cities alike. In the nineteenth century, corduroy became the fabric of choice for the working class, as jobs demanded a uniform that could take some abuse. After its workwear duty, corduroy took a labyrinth-like route through the 20th century style landscape, picked up by New England preps, high school English teachers, uptown aristocrats, and downtown subcultures — often all at the same time. 

Workwear uniform in the 19th century.

So, the culture and celebration of corduroy are plentiful and never-ending stories of inspiration and exploration. Add to that the complexity of the fabric construction and the many variations of the weave (from the finest feather-wale, over novelty-wale corduroys, to the widest jumbo and elephant cord)  and you get the full picture of the vast impact of corduroy in the history of (wo)man. A complete walk-through of milestones would take no less than forever so here’s a very short shortcut to some of our favorite corduroy outfits and moments of our time, up until now. 

Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg.
Woody Allen and Diane Keaton.

John F. Kennedy and Carolyn Bessette Kennedy.

Colourful Cord Moments.

The Power Corduroy Couples.

Leandra Cohen matching elefant cord with folklore.
Alexa Chung in a blue, baby cord dress.
Fuchsia cord bootcut pants on Giovanna Engelbert.
Reese Blutstein in rust-colored casual cord suit.
Jeanne Damas looking Paris-chic in corduroy set.

Chocolate and Concrete Cord.

Maralunga Armchair by Vico Magistretti for Cassina in Original Chocolate Velvet, 1970s, Italy.
Concrete corduroy: Colechurch House by architect E.G. Chandler, England.
Published 27/11/2022

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