Corduroy Guide

Corduroy Guide – How To Wear It,What Cords To Buy & More

Often considered the poor man’s substitute for velvet, corduroy is actually a very wonderful fabric that is made from cotton which is woven to lie parallel to each other, so it forms individual cords that almost appear to be separate and attached.Soft and yet durable, it’s a variation of velvet that’s easy to maintain and clean and still keeps its shape relatively well. Made from cotton or a cotton blend, it’s very popular for hunting apparel, trousers, jackets, suits and other cool-weather attire due to its warmth. Today’s guide is all about this wonderful material and how you can use it in men’s apparel.

The History of Corduroy

In order to understand the history of corduroy, you must first understand its parent: Fustian. It is an umbrella term for thick cotton fabrics including moleskins and corduroys.

It was first woven in Norwich, England during the reign of Edward VI, and used for jackets in the 15 century. Originally dating back as far as 200 AD, it was initially woven in Fustat, a small city near Cairo, in Egypt. At the time, Fustat was a bustling marketplace and one that was known for its use of cotton and later its exportation of cotton throughout much of Europe.

Velvet is very similar to Corduroy

Velvet is very similar to Corduroy

Fustian as Outdoor Apparel in the 19th Century

It was during the 18th century that London tailors began to adapt the textile as an option for outdoor apparel in the cooler climate. The goal was to create the perfect form of fustian that would dry quickly from the rain and provide warmth in the winter months. For hunters and gatherers, the new fabric was ideal as it was comfortable, provided protection from the elements, and offered them an easy, maintenance-free alternative to their previous clothing.

Black Corduroy With Tan Boots

Black Corduroy With Tan Boots

How Corduroy Got Its Name

In the past, silk used to be rather expensive and velvet was only made of silk, yet Corduroy is generally woven from cotton.

Cour du Roi

Some claim the origins of ‘Corduroy’ come from the French ‘Cour du Roi’ meaning ‘Court of the king’.

Of course, the king wore clothes made out of fine silk fabrics and so did the aristocrats at court. However, the King’s servants did not get silk but rather less expensive cotton hunting outfits. Corduroy is also woven like velvet, except the pile picks are bound by the warp, which creates the straight lines.

These are probably some of the reasons corduroy is  also referred to as the velvet of the poor.

Wes Anderson in Medium Wale Corduroy Suit with flap pockets

Wes Anderson in Medium Wale Corduroy Suit with flap pockets

Corde du Roi

Some also claim the name was derived from the French “Corde du Roi” which means as much as ‘Cloth of the King’. Considering that cotton was not the fabric of kings, it seems less likely that this was in fact the origin of Corduroy.

Cord Duroy

Others think the word  was derived from the English word cord and duroy was an adaptation of durable. Of course we will never know at what point in time Fustian was renamed Corduroy, but the first explanation seems more plausible.

A lively gentleman in a blue corduroy suit

A lively gentleman in a blue corduroy suit

Corduroy in the 20th Century

As formal wear took off throughout much of Victorian England, corduroy went from being the country gent’s textile of choice to the working-class fabric for uniforms.

During the beginning of the 20th century, it became popular among Parisian intellectuals for trousers and jackets.

By the 1930s it was also utilized for Alpine hiking clothing and by the 1960s The Beatles popularized it when they wore Corduroy suits.

Corduroy Jacket from the 1970s

Corduroy Jacket from the 1970s

The Beatles Saved The Corduroy Industry

Up until then, most corduroys were worn by students and school-boys, workers, and farmers, and as such the industry was in a constant decline. The Beatles made corduroy fashionable again. In 1965, the President of the Board of Trade even claimed that The Beatles “saved the British corduroy industry”.

In the U.S. corduroy became popular with Ivy League students in Princeton and Dartmouth in 1957, and it went on to become an Ivy Style wardrobe staple.

Throughout the seventies, eighties, and nineties Corduroy was still present but it had its ups and downs.

Today, corduroy suits or blazers are often associated with professors, who pair it with tweed, or people who are into the British Country Gentleman Style. Since velvet is almost exclusively made of cotton or cotton blends and not silk anymore, corduroy can no longer be considered to be inferior to velvet and so it is not a surprise to see that men sometimes prefer if over velvet. Corduroy has no doubt set itself apart as its own,unique textile for the modern gentleman.

Tan corduroys with cordovan boots

Tan corduroys with cordovan boots

What Corduroy Items Should You Buy? Pants, Suits and Maybe More

What’s unique about corduroy is that it tends to trend and go in and out of style in short bursts. Somehow, it never dies though, and just remains comatose for a brief time before re-emerging.

While corduroy upholstery on furniture was popular, it’s rare to find a sofa these days that’s not pre-owned in someone’s basement or a grandparent’s living room and covered with plastic. However, classic staples such as hunting jackets remain popular decade after decade because they keep you warm and last.

If your goal is to build a classic and timeless wardrobe, Corduroy an excellent addition for pants, jackets, vests and suits. A pair of pants should be a part of every modern gentleman’s fall-winter wardrobe, with the suit being the next upgrade once you have your basic suit needs covered. If you are into the outdoors, you definitely want to look into hunting jackets.

Because of its stiffness, corduroy works better off the rack than other garments; however, if you want the proper fit, there is no way around bespoke.

Vibrant corduroy jacket adds texture and dimension

Vibrant corduroy jacket adds texture and dimension

Corduroy Colors

The most versatile colors include brown, tan, olive, khaki, sand, black and navy. However, you can also find more vibrant colors such as red, burgundy mustard yellow, and bright green. Our advice is to purchase only colors you are comfortable wearing, disregarding the current fashion trends.

One of the latest trends is pigment-dyed corduroy in various colors that are both vibrant and dull. The dye is applied to the surface of the textile prior to it being cut and sewn. Over time,  pigment-dyed color will fade, especially when washed, and eventually even the most vibrant of colors will appear vintage and soft.

If you do purchase vibrant corduroy clothing, it’s wise to dry-clean only and not wash it at home. If you have a suit, clean both items at the same time, because otherwise your pants may not look like your jacket.

The astute gentleman in his corduroy blazer

The astute gentleman in his corduroy blazer

Corduroy Details & Characteristic

Due to its outdoor heritage, corduroy jackets are usually on the casual side featuring center vents, patch pockets, and throat latches … but of course, you can also find them with side vents and flap pockets. While velvet is often used for smoking jackets and alternative dinner jackets, corduroy is usually used for blazers, suits, trousers and vests.

Because of its tight weave, it is rather warm as long as it remains dry. At the same time, it doesn’t drape as beautifully as heavy wool fabrics. So if you are prone to overheating, corduroy is probably not the best choice for you.

Medium Wale Corduroy

Medium Wale Corduroy

The Corduroy Wale

Corduroy is generally measured by what’s referred to as the ‘Wale’ of the cord, which is the number of ridges found in the item per inch. The term comes from the actual name of those ribs or cords that are called ‘Wales.’ The lower the wale number, the thicker the wales will be. The wale count is a rather large range and unlike other grades that often offer just a handful of choices, corduroy comes in everything from 1.5 all the way up to 21. However, in most cases the most desirable wale number is somewhere between 10 and 12.

Fine Wale Corduroy

Fine Wale Corduroy

Ideally, wider wale counts should be reserved for items below the waist, whereas a finer wale number can be chosen for items such as jackets and suits. Ultimately of course you pick what you like.

Tabby Back Corduroy

Tabby Back Corduroy

Genoa Back vs. Tabby Back

The backside of corduroy can either look and feel similar to the front with a twill back (Genoa Back) or it can have a plain back, which is known as Tabby Back. Higher quality corduroys are tightly woven and usually feature a Genoa Back although there are generally exceptions to the rule.

A modern corduroy suit

A modern corduroy suit by astuteattire

Corduroy Blazers & Sport Coats

Let’s say you buy a corduroy suit: you can also wear them them as separates with just the jackets or pants. In fact, you will greatly increase the opportunities of wearing corduroy when you wear either a jacket or pants. If you are still in the early days of building a wardrobe, it is probably wiser to invest in a corduroy jacket rather than a full suit because you can combine it more easily.

Vintage Corduroy

Vintage Corduroy can come in unusual colors such as gunmetal in very fine or wide wale cord. The jackets from the 50s and 60s can easily be worn today, while the styles from the 70s and 80s look quite dated. Therefore, stick with timeless shapes unless you are going to a Halloween party.

A casual fall outfit using corduroy for warmth and texture

A casual fall outfit using corduroy for warmth and texture


Corduroy is one of those textiles that one tends to love or hate. For many, this love/hate relationship can be item specific.

Some men may love the idea of a corduroy jacket but despise the thought of wearing corduroy pants.

For others, corduroy is a simple yes or no to all items. In any case, corduroy has its stigma as a somewhat dated fabric and yet it is a great addition to any modern gentleman’s winter wardrobe, at least in doses. What are your thoughts on corduroy? Do you have an appreciation and respect for it?

This guide was written by Sven Raphael Schneider & J.A. Shapira

Article Name
The Corduroy Guide
A complete guide on Corduroy's history, styles and how to wear it with confidence.
Gentleman's Gazette
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16 replies
  1. Oren Truitt says:

    WHERE do I find corduroy trousers? I have checked several better department stores and the internet but am not finding any corduroy trousers other than SKINNY for teenagers. I found a very fine tweed corduroy jacket and waistcoat at J.C.Pennys which pair well with Dockers and nicer trousers but it seems corduroy trousers for more mature men are unavailable.

    • Edward K. Jellytoes says:

      Jos. A. Banks has fairly good quality “baggy-cords” (trousers only) a la your college days if properly paired with the correct shirts, bow-ties optional and shoes – loafers, chukkas and especially saddle-shoes.

    • richard marinaro says:

      i have purchased several from LL BEAN. With and w/o pleats. they are definitely not skinny, but also not ’60s baggy. i am 69 years old and tall and thin. I think they are a great fit. Wish they had more colors. I cherish a pair I have in Winter White. I had them custom made several years ago. Fantastic when paired with a black and white tweed jacket. Corduroy never went out of style for me.

  2. William A. says:

    Definitely, a corduroy “sports” jacket with the elbow patch is one of my winter wear favorites especially with denim jeans, chinos or khakis pants. Also a sharp looking waistcoat adds that casual look, yet, full dressed appearance.

  3. Terry says:

    I’ve worn corduroy casual pants in the past, but have shied away from dress corduroys as I’ve heard they don’t hold a crease well.

    Thank you for another informative article, Sven

    • sam says:

      Let’s face it….cords have fallen out of fashion these days! The same can’t be said for cords what is true about timelessness of a pair of blue Levis. Many years ago (mid 80’s) I owned several pairs from Brooks and Gant. The drape depends on the weight and weave (wale) of the fabric. Ones from Gant retained its dapper creased look if it was professionally laundered (dry cleaned). But after all, this fabric is meant to be casual and comfortable. One shouldn’t expect it to be as elegant and sharp as tailored Saworsted or gabardine.

      • Alexander_F says:

        It’s true and most unfortunate they have. As a matter of fact I’ve always prefered them to the ubiquitous uniform de Nîmes.But fear not, they will come back, and as a matter of fact they are still out there.

        And Terry, don’t expect corduroy to hold a crease, it just won’t, except if it has some artificial fibers added, and wearing such is out of the question. Corduroy is after all just as casual as denim, albeit the conservative touch given by it’s association with British landowners and fogeyish professors will always make it a notch more refined. But that’s not bad. Corduroys are made to be paired with some chunky sweater, and as a matter of fact it is what I am wearing right now.

        By the way, the article is just great. Thanks a lot and greetings across the Atlantic

    • Geoff says:

      The alternative to a crease is the Navy fold used on jeans and wool pants. Emphasis is on the side seam when folding for storage. Hold the pants by the side seams and fold together causing the crotch to pop out. Sailors folded their wool pants this way after turning them inside-out for the distinctive barrel shape. Of more importance is the cut of the leg. Jeans twist on the legs based upon the cutter’s orientation of the bias. I am often frustrated by the twist of inexpensive pants; jeans, chinos and cords, especially on my left leg. I have always had a corduroy suit in my wardrobe; presently chocolate brown. I had trouble finding a cord suit so matched jacket with separate pants from two stores.

  4. Prof.Recance says:

    You have overlooked the simplest and most obvious solution in your search for how corduroy got its name. It was clearly the forerunner of the
    “I ‘picture of a heart’ something”
    teeshirt, coeur being french for heart and “Le Roi coeur” being reversed as the French do – my aunt’s pen becoming la plume de ma tante, as an example of which your collecting days should have reminded you – becomes coeur le Roi, or corduroy.

    • Ben Olliphant says:

      I am doubtful of some of these explanations and think you will find that the word corduroy is a corruption of the expression “Cor blimey” from the days when God blind me was considered blasphemous. In fact, I am the only one to be able to produce evidence of an explanation. The Lonnie Donegan record “My Old Man’s A Dustman” from 1960 contains the line
      “He wears cor blimey trousers”


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