Here’s a closer look at this surprisingly versatile fabric.
Few fabrics have undergone a renaissance in the same way corduroy has. Not long ago, corduroy was considered dated and uncool, and it was mostly associated with dad style and stuffy academic types (even though this stereotype was mostly the result of films and TV shows).
Today, corduroy has made one heck of a comeback. There’s a seemingly endless supply of corduroy shirts, overshirts, jackets, pants, hats, and even shorts.
You’d never guess that corduroy was ever thought of as lame, and that’s a great thing, because this fabric has a lot to offer.
What Is Corduroy?
Corduroy is a texture characterized by raised cords of fabric. These raised cords create vertical ridges called “wales” that alternate with the base material to create corduroy’s idiosyncratic texture.
One of the most important aspects of corduroy is the wale count, which is the number of wales per inch. The lower the wale count, the wider the individual wales (and the thicker the fabric will be as a result). For example, a 6-wale fabric will be much heftier than a 14-wale fabric.
Corduroy is generally broken down into three categories based on thickness:
Standard wale: This refers to corduroy that has a wale count between 10-12.
Wide wale: Generally, corduroy with a wale count of 8 or lower is considered wide wale.
Needlecord/pincord/pinwale: These are all terms for fine corduroy that has a wale count of 14 or higher.
What Is Corduroy Made Of?
Corduroy is unique in that it’s not a material but rather a texture. Theoretically, any material can be made into corduroy.
Cotton is by far the most popular fabric used to make corduroy, though you can also find corduroy made from wool or polyester.
When Was Corduroy Invented?
While corduroy as we know it today wasn’t developed until the 18th and 19th centuries, it has roots in ancient Egypt.
Around 200 AD, a fabric called fustian emerged from the city Al-Fustat (now part of Cairo). Fustian was a tough, coarse fabric with raised ridges, and over time it became a popular choice for garments like vestments and gowns.
Eventually, the fabric made its way to England, where modern corduroy was developed. The name comes from duroy, a coarse woolen cloth, though it’s unclear exactly how this material is related to present-day corduroy.
Corduroy has gone in and out of style for hundreds of years, but nevertheless, it persists. In the 19th century, it was seen as a lackluster alternative to velvet, and in the 1970s, it was practically synonymous with the word groovy.
Today’s corduroy hearkens back to the fabric’s roots in British workwear and sportswear. Generally, contemporary corduroy tends to have a higher wale count because it looks a bit smarter and more refined, but you can still find wider wales with a bit of searching.
How To Wear Corduroy
When styling corduroy, it’s important to consider wale count. Generally, the thicker the wale, the more casual the fabric.
More specifically, corduroy with a higher wale count is generally easier to style because it has a less noticeable texture and is therefore closer to untextured cotton fabrics. You can get a bit more mileage out of this, and it’s easier to combine with other textures.
Corduroy that has a lower wale count is more obvious and needs to be styled more intentionally. You have to be especially careful when mixing formality levels and fabric textures so that your outfit doesn’t clash or become too loud.
Here are a few ways to style different types of corduroy garments:
Needlecord Corduroy Pants
Arguably, the best way to start wearing corduroy is to get some needlecord pants. Go for a pair with a high wale count (16 or even higher), and choose a neutral color if you want the most versatility.
You can also go for a more vibrant color if you want to emphasize the texture of the corduroy.
Colors like maroon, forest green, and rust are all great options; they’re bolder than neutrals but aren’t too loud.
Corduroy Shirts & Jackets
The needlecord shirt is another great way to incorporate corduroy into your wardrobe. A long-sleeve button down with a high wale count is easy to style, and you can even play around with color a bit.
For overshirts and jackets, you can go with a lower wale count to accentuate these garments’ larger and more structured silhouettes.
This is an easy way to wear thicker wales without making a big statement.
Corduroy with a wale count of 8 or lower will stand out no matter what you’re wearing. It’s not necessarily a statement fabric, but it will be a prominent texture, so you need to plan your outfits accordingly.
An easy way to style a wide-waled piece is to make it the only standout texture in your outfit. This will ensure that you don’t go overboard when it comes to visuals.
Combining thicker corduroy with knitwear is always a safe bet. Corduroy in general looks great with all kinds of knitwear, so it depends on the look you’re after.
Corduroy on Corduroy
Although corduroy is a prominent texture, you can mix and match fabrics with different wale counts for a rich, dimensional outfit.
Matching needlecord with a thicker corduroy is always a good option. The only guideline here is to be careful when you have more than one piece with extra-wide wales, as the result can make you look more like furniture.
And if you’re wondering, yes, you can suit up in all corduroy, but it’s not for the faint of heart.
It’s a fun casual statement outfit, but for most daily wear, this look is too bold.
Here are some handy answers to common questions about corduroy.
What kind of fabric is corduroy?
Corduroy is often made of cotton, but it can also be made with wool or polyester. Corduroy by itself is just a texture, not a specific fabric.
Is corduroy the same as denim?
While corduroy and denim have some similarities, the two are different types of fabric. Corduroy is made by creating raised wales in a base fabric while denim is a cotton twill fabric.
It’s clear that corduroy is here to stay, and that’s a beautiful thing. Few other fabrics can create depth and provide texture the way corduroy does. Whether you use it as an accent fabric or become thoroughly obsessed with it, corduroy will help you put together some uniquely dapper outfits.
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