Thursday, December 15, 2005

Apple #133: Corduroy

I have a new pair of corduroy pants. I haven't had corduroy pants since, I think, I was 16. Before that, I remember a pair that was rust-colored and had beige tulips embroidered on the pockets. I think that was 5th grade. I like my new corduroys very much.

So now I want to know, when was corduroy invented?

Various corduroys
(Photo from Sigh.)

  • Many sources say the word comes from a French phrase meaning "cord of the king." However, the fabric was actually made in England sometime around 1780. While the experts at the OED admit that the term looks like the French corte de roi, they insist that the English came up with the word.
  • Some people in the Netherlands and Germany still refer to corduroy as "Manchester," because the majority of corduroy in the 19th century was made in mills in Manchester, England.
  • Despite its royal-sounding name, corduroy was made for people of humble circumstances. It was often referred to as "poor man's velvet." In technical fabric terms, it is similar to velvet, but its pile is made from the cheaper cotton rather than the more expensive silk or satin.
  • If you want to categorize corduroy, you'd put it in with other fustian fabrics. Fustian is any sturdy fabric made of cotton, wool, or low-quality wool.
  • In the 19th century, corduroy was widely used for workman's clothes. In the early 20th century, many children's clothes were made of corduroy because it was warm and durable.
  • After World War II, denim's popularity eclipsed corduroy for adult clothing.
  • In the 1970s, corduroy enjoyed a resurgence in popularity, probably because the cloth's associations with poor folks' clothes fit with the sensibilities of the times. All kinds of garments were made from corduroy in this decade, including pants, jackets, caps, suits, vests, jumpers; probably everything but socks and underwear.

This recently-sewn handbag is made from vintage 1970s black corduroy fabric. The bag is available for a cool $82. So much for the working poor.

  • If you've ever worn corduroy, you know it makes a distinctive vrip vrip sound when you move. This sound comes from the ribbing, or wales in the fabric. I used to wonder whether that word had anything to do with the name of the country, Wales, but it does not. The "wale" in fabric comes from an Anglo-Saxon term walu, which means "to flail with stripes." Hooray for stripes.
Historical Boys' Clothing, Corduroy for Boys Clothing and HBC Reader Subject Comments, Women's Fashion, Corduroy
Nostalgia Central, Fashion in the 1970s


  1. There's a Talk of the Town piece about a corduroy club in one of the most recent New Yorkers. The first meeting was on November 11th because that's the date that most resembles corduroy.

    Enjoy your new cords.

    Jim F.

  2. Corduroy jeans are fantastic. I started wearing corduroy jeans in college in the 70s. I have a huge collection of corduroy jeans, corduroy pants, corduroy suits and jackets. From September to May, I wear corduroys. During Summer, I wear corduroy shorts.

    Martin A.

  3. I am actually from the town where Corduroy was first made, it's a small town not far from manchester. Here is a link to more info on it.


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