For the Love of Corduroy

corduroy suit jacket sportcoat

Corduroy used to be something I never liked.  It seemed a bit too heavy, too textured, and too much like something an old man would wear.  And then suddenly, I was hooked. First off, let me say that I like to think that I came to this conclusion independently from the current hype about corduroy suit but then again, my love of it is rather recent, so I’m sure my IG feed played a part.

I’m obviously not the first person on Styleforum to like corduroy, but I thought it would be pertinent to share some of my thoughts on a few pieces to help sway those who aren’t in the know yet.  

Now first things first, corduroy is a casual cloth. It’s 100% cotton and while soft and luxurious blends exist today, it was primarily used for workwear and casualwear.  This is marked by its traditionally heavier weight and its raised ridges (wales). It was originally tough and hearty, which is why you see a lot of old illustrations featuring the cloth used for trousers, jackets, and even full suits.

Despite these workwear roots, corduroy was also employed for tailoring.  I recall seeing some true vintage 1930s-1940s suits (with a few being quite novel, marketed toward youth); however, the cloth didn’t really catch on until the heyday Ivy-league era, in the 1950s-1960s.  That’s when we see cordovan in its full glory, with as many tan and olive green 3PC suits as our heart desires.

In old advertisements, corduroy is marketed as a rugged piece.  Twilled cotton suits have been common since the first “modern” suit as we know it, so perhaps the wales and combed nature of the cloth lead it to be appealing to young men.

The Ivy era was the perfect time for the cloth, as the soft plush fabric was quite a match for the en vogue silhouette: natural shoulders, 3-roll-2, and slim-yet-straight trouser.  Corduroy was slightly more interesting than the regular twilled cotton most khakis were made from.
Students and young men embraced the fabric, as it was a great way to look dressed up without feeling dressed up. There was something intellectual about the fabric: it wasn’t as “vacation-y” as twilled cotton, as wintery as tweed, nor as corporate as regular worsted.  It’s best seen on Dustin Hoffman in “The Graduate”, looking sharp despite not doing much with his life (other than…well).
The cloth adorned other fictional academics played by Donald Sutherland (Animal House) and the late Robin Williams (Dead Poets Society).  It’s been embraced wholeheartedly by the trad-ivy scene and Americana in general; it’s hard to believe that it was a popular fabric choice for bell-bottom pants and disco suits during the 1970s.

Looking at menswear today, it’s clear that the ivy draw is still present.  It’s not only perpetuated by the likes of Drake’s, but even guys who commission their own cord pieces tend to lean into the trad styling.  The wide-waled cloth simply calls for oxford shirts, repp ties, and penny loafers. However, as I noted earlier, a few mills have been keen on developing more luxurious versions to fit gentlemen with a more elegant lifestyle.
Also, depending on the weight and where you live, it’s perfectly fine to wear corduroy as a multiple season suit, shedding or adding layers as needed for your context. As someone in LA, a medium weight cord suit is actually much more appropriate for fall/winter as it’s more comfy to wear all day than flannel or tweed (the latter seldom gets used).

I also found corduroy a perfect cloth to experiment with color; there is something special about the brushed, ridged cotton that simply works for most colors.  Browns and blues are easy, but jewel tones are especially nice. A purple worsted suit is overkill, but in corduroy? It achieves a slouchy almost dusty effect that makes the novel color a bit more accessible and wearable. It’s why you’ll see guys do up their cords in oranges, yellows, reds, and greens.

And in case you’re wondering, yes, I’ve dipped my feet a bit into the cord pond.  Cord trousers are probably my favorite to wear in the LA “winter”, being simultaneously comfy and yet slightly warmer than my regular chinos. Pleats are a must for most of my trouser choices, namely in Wallace & Barnes pants or super soft khaki’s from the LA-based ivy-prep brand Magill; I even have a Gurkha model from Craftsman Clothing that has broken in well over the few weeks I’ve had them.  As a fun late 60’s move, I have a brown 5-pocket pair of trousers that have been a great alternative for denim jeans. It works well with tailoring but makes super casual stuff even better.

The one odd jacket I have is a mustard yellow sack jacket that could pass as a Graduate or a Llewyn Davis cosplay.  It’s beat up, but that’s why I love it; there’s something about vintage cord that looks nice even when it’s not in mint condition. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to try any epic jewel-tone suits, but one of my favorite pieces is a dark chocolate brown cord from Spier & Mackay.  It’s cut in their soft Neapolitan-inspired silhouette with a high rise, single pleated trouser. Not only has it broken in extremely well over this past F/W season, but it just has the richness and texture you can only get from corduroy. 

Spier & Mackay Brown cord suit. Mill was Brisbane Moss.

Spier & Mackay Brown cord suit. Mill was Brisbane Moss.

Overall, I’ve become enamored with the cloth. It certainly is recent compared to most, which may surprise some of you, as I’ve been a trad-ivy enthusiast for quite some time.  I’ve worn corduroy regularly this year and I’m sure I will in the years to come.
I know many people are hesitant about this casual fabric, but trust me, it really is perfect for tailoring, especially if you aren’t exactly a “trussed up” sort of dresser. 
I like to think of corduroy as twilled cotton’s more interesting (and cooler) brother, which is why it’s often associated with “quirky” dressers.

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Ethan Wong lives right in the middle: he’s too modern for the vintage scene and yet too vintage for classic menswear. When not at work, he spends his time writing and taking pictures for his blog, Street x Sprezza, which is all about bringing vintage style into the modern day. With a large collection of thrifted vintage and contemporary clothing, he often wonders when his closet will finally implode.

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About Ethan Wong

Ethan Wong lives right in the middle: he’s too modern for the vintage scene and yet too vintage for classic menswear. When not at work, he spends his time writing and taking pictures for his blog, Street x Sprezza, which is all about bringing vintage style into the modern day. With a large collection of thrifted vintage and contemporary clothing, he often wonders when his closet will finally implode.

6 thoughts on “For the Love of Corduroy

  1. Great article Ethan…Perhaps your first impression of corduroy was actually quite accurate, at least from my prospective. Corduroy is a scruffy cloth, however, you can do things with corduroy that would not be attempted with other finer fabrics. For instance, you can fill the front pockets of your pants with unusual bulky objects and not be viewed as strange. If you are a kid, even your pet lizard would feel quite comfortable nestled in the breast pocket of your corduroy jacket. You can even engage in a sand-lot football game after school without having to go home and change clothes. You might, however, want to re-think wearing corduroy to the opera, unless you don’t mind being escorted to the last seat in the balcony, even if you possess a front row seat in the lower level. LOL

  2. I got my first pair of corduroy pants in 1955 at age 8. It has been a staple for me since. I worked in and or owned a menswear store for 55 years and it was a continuous fabric in our business the entire time. The 50’s versions were stiff and made a noise as you walked- when the fabric brushed against itself-referred to as “whistling”. I have a collection of corduroy items from the last 50 years, mostly pants, but also, a jacket 1974, a suit 1990’s, several vest, shirts and many five pockets in varying wales and qualities. It is a very endearing fabric that translates easily into wearable items for all.

  3. As a 46 year old, married father of 3 and a lifelong professional corduroy wearer I found your article highly enjoyable.

  4. I first started wearing Levis corduroy jeans in the early 70s. With my frye boots and western snap shirts. (Suburban Philadelphia) today i wear AG stretch cords. My only corduroy regret was a pair of double pleated pants i had made in the 90s.. i love a baby corduroy for a shirt. Several Italian mills do an excellent job..
    I never wore a corduroy jacket. I plan to make one next year in an constructed model i have developed.

  5. I love corduroy. I’ve created four suits from separates. Ralph Lauren jackets and bonobos pants. I’ve got black, blue, green and orange. I’m working on a chocolate brown. Corduroy is an Affordable way to obtain texture in wardrobe.

    I can’t remember which manufacturer does this but they blend cotton with cashmere.

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