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Striking the Right Cord

Re-entering fashion’s mainstream, Corduroy is back and more fashionable than ever before

‘Corduroy’. That one word that brings back images of Mr Peterson, my geography teacher proudly repping those coffee-stained wale cords day-after-day, as we sat and sniggered at his unfashionable trouser of choice. Well, to all of those pre-judging style bigots who criticised teachers like Mr Peterson for wearing that full cord suit, corduroy is back and is looking better than ever. Taking you on a journey throughout the vintage textile’s lifespan, we delve into the characteristics of one of fashion’s comfiest and hard wearing materials.

Once known as ‘Fustian’ from its Egyptian roots back in 200 AD, corduroy became popularised on a wider scale throughout the 12th and 14th centuries as it entered into Europe via Italy. Donned by royalty, it was in the late 18th century that Frustian became popular here in England as “corduroy”. The word was controversially viewed as falsely being adapted from the French translation of ‘cloth of the king’, or ‘cor du roi’. Whichever fence you sit on, the word’s very origin signifies a moment in time when different textiles were being developed and worn by members of the superior class. 

Skip to the 1900s and the fabric is at an all time high with everyone going cord crazy. Synonymous with sports and military wear, and from children’s baby grows to the Ford Model T’s luxury interior, people can’t get enough of the rigid velvet-like material. However, much like the classically loved cardigan (see Issue 39, page 30), corduroy rides the rollercoaster of fashion throughout the 1920s to 1950s.   

Whenever corduroy disappears, it suddenly springs back into fashion thanks to the forward thinking trend setters. For example, the early 1970s in the North sees the fabric filter into working class Britain. Placed into high usage throughout a number of large factories, corduroy trousers are proudly adorned by guys and gals at late night cabaret shows to Christmas day family photos (along with Fred Perry chunky knits and a pair of Forest Hills). 

The cord pants and slacks were often placed alongside a pair of smuggled German Adidas Samba or Bamba’s with a belted hunting jacket, the style for many football-obsessed who were influenced from their clubs foray into Europe during the late 70s early 80s. Overseas, cords were also worn on the dancefloor of Studio 54. Paired flamboyantly with a silky shirt, perhaps with one buttong too many unfastened, New Yorkers danced like Tony Manero to disco and alternative hits lead by resident disc jockey, Nicky Siano. 

Nowadays, corduroy looks as though it has re-entered fashion’s mainstream, having been dusted off from the archives and placed onto the mood boards of many of our favourite brands. From the pockets of Engineered Garments’ amazingly designed Dumbo Barbour jacket, to masters of simplicity, Norse Projects’ Aros pants. Cord has been incorporated into the design process of many of today’s forward thinking labels. This A/W season has been witness to even some of the minimalist brands around, such as NN07 and Folk, injecting cord into some their colelctions. 

Where does it go from here? Well if history repeats then cord is to hang around for a couple more years at least. For all the stick he ever received, Mr Peterson can hold his head up high. He must have known that one day we would be honouring him in some way. After all, he really was ahead of his time when it came to sporting corduroy. EJ

Words by Reece FEENEY