Corduroy: A Short History on the Fabric that can draw a line between Style and Fashion.

Written by Jason Disley
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Corduroy, is it the marmite of fabrics? Some love it for its texture and wearability. Some hate it because it is a fabric associated with the old fashioned stereotypical style of Geography teachers, pensioners, and those considered to be out of step geeks.

Yet, every so often that Geek chic makes a resurgence, or the revival of practical workwear brings Corduroy back in the form of Trucker Jackets, trousers, and other examples of retro styles that were popular in other decades such as the 60s and 70s. Corduroy was even seen on football terraces during the mid-80s and early 90s thanks to brands such as Wrangler, Levi’s and Lois. So, what is Corduroy’s history?

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Corduroy’s roots are firmly rooted in the ancient Egyptian city of Al-Fustat. Located not far from the Nile river. The city became associated with its creation of tough woven fabrics sometime around the second century. It also, at least for a while, played a very significant historic role—in 641, it became the first Arab settlement in Egypt and served as the country’s capital for two separate periods totalling more than 300 years. But, in the midst of the Crusades, one of the city’s top political officials ordered the city burned in a desperate attempt to prevent its wealth from being ransacked and stolen.

Since that time, Al-Fustat lost its high level of influence in the region, as nearby Cairo, which was only founded in 969 AD, took its place in the 12th century, and became Egypt’s new capital.

Getting back to Al- Fustat - it turned out, that this lost city’s biggest legacy in the Western world was the predecessor of fabric that was to become known as corduroy, This original fabric became known as fustian, a clear riff on the Egyptian city’s name. It was a heavy cloth that worked well for garments such as trousers, but unlike corduroy, it doesn’t feature any raised cords

Fustian, of which the two known types we have today are velveteen and corduroy, were originally woven with a warp of linen thread and a weft of thick cotton, so twilled and cut that it showed on one side a thick but low pile. So, why and how did this Fustian material become known as Corduroy?

It was originally believed that the term corduroy came from a 17th century English corruption of the French “corde du roi” or “cloth of the king,” this theory however has since been debunked. It is believed that the term is a compound of the word “cord,” referring to its tufted, row-like pattern (or wales), and “duroy” which was a coarse woolen fabric used in England. What we now recognise as corduroy emerged in the late 18th century in Manchester, England as factory wear during the all-important Industrial Revolution. It would remain a working-class fabric for the next hundred years, only to be discovered in the 1960s by college students and beatniks alike who wore it as an alternative to their chinos and denim jeans. By the late 1970s to 1980s, the popularity of corduroy trousers, and even shorts grew among preps and surfers—only to be re-appropriated in the US by flannel-clad rockers during the grunge era of the 1990s.

In the UK, as Brit-Pop took hold you would see corduroy trousers paired with a tracksuit top and a pair of trainers. A look that was both considered comfortable and cool by those that had moved away from more formal attire as clubwear became practical when going out at the weekend. An outfit I myself would sometimes wear. I had a pair of Lois Jean's jumbo cords in navy that I particularly liked. These teamed with a pair of Gazelles, and an Adidas zip-top, in Manchester in the late 80s early 90s was not an uncommon sight amongst teenagers at the time. The appropriation of comfortable clothing was in very much the same way as soul fans had dressed more for comfort whilst dancing in the 70s.

As we reach the noughties, Corduroy all but disappeared from the high street but was still available from smaller and more specialist outfitters. Usually adopted by those that hankered for vintage style. Now, in 2020 cord is available more easily on the High Street, as new generations warm to the often autumnal shades that Cord is often available in, and the trends of the past are revisited, and the possibilities of the fabric are applied to many things, other than just clothing.

There is another weave similar to Corduroy known as Bedford. So, what is the difference between Bedford Cord and Corduroy?

Bedford cord is a fabric weave with ribs down the length of the fabric, similar in style to Corduroy. The ribs can be any width. It looks like an uncut un-brushed corduroy but does not have that softer and more comfortable velvet feeling. Bedford Cord gets its name from the town of Bedford, in England. It is a very strong and durable fabric, it is often used in upholstery and for work clothes. The Bedford Cord is usually a combination of two kinds of Weave, namely “Plain” and “Drill”; however, others may be used.

Weft floats determine the width of the cords on the back, and wadding ends may be used to accentuate the prominence of the cords. Personally, I prefer Corduroy to its harsher “cousin”. For example, an Ivy Style soft-shouldered jacket in corduroy is always smart when teamed with the right clothing.


Read 544 times Last modified on Tuesday, 20 October 2020 16:28
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Jason Disley

Jason Disley

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