Few fabrics divide opinion like corduroy. No one is in the ‘Hmm it’s OK’ camp. You either love or loathe it. And yet it’s still with us, after three hundred years, and currently having another moment in the sun.
It can trace its history to the 18th century when it was developed as a durable cloth for the working man. The word does not arise, as is commonly supposed, from ‘Corde du Roi’ or anything so regal. Rather, it’s “cord” and “duroy”, the latter a coarse woollen fabric.
The cord, of course, is what gives it the unique quality that we fans so like. The thickness of the cord is referred to as the ‘wale’ (great Scrabble word) and the lower the wale, the thicker the cord. It’s basically a measure of the number per inch. So Jumbo or elephant cord is around 5 or six, whereas rarefied pin cord would be 16. Most needle cords are 11 wales.
Its transformation from working class garb to Carnaby Street must have occurred in the 1960s and who can forget the insouciant Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate with his camel coloured cord jacket. It has dipped in and out of fashion, with 1980s’ jumbo cords along the way and today is the textile ‘du jour’ for many designers. Prada has a particularly fetching three piece purple number for those with cash to splash.
I’ve had a soft spot for cord since my youth, picking up vintage workwear pieces in my twenties and this season I’ve designed a nostalgic pin cord shirt with racing cars inspired by boys’ bedroom wallpaper from the 1970s Team it with jeans and a velvet jacket for a lushly textured Autumn feel. And remember: higher wale above the waist….