Apparently corduroy started life as a type of Fustian. I remember clearly reading about both fabrics in one of my GCE O level books, The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy.
The man was of fine figure, swarthy, and stern in aspect; and he showed in profile a facial angle so slightly inclined as to be almost perpendicular. He wore a short jacket of brown corduroy, newer than the remainder of his suit, which was a fustian waistcoat with white horn buttons, breeches of the same, tanned leggings, and a straw hat overlaid with black glazed canvas. (p1)
I also remember reading about Fustian in Frederick Engels in that it was the most easy way to distinguish the rich from the poor – Fustian in the 19th C included corduroy, jean and moleskin. He notes that linen and wool are now hardly used for the clothes of the poor, and that cotton (not grown in the UK) has replaced both. Men wear fustian (heavy cotton) trousers and jackets. In fact the poor came to be known as “fustian jackets”, whereas the middle classes wore woolen broadcloth. In the Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844 he notes that cotton is really not the most suitable fabric for a workman’s outfit, especially given the cold, damp climate and lack of heating within the home.
It is really hard to find any images of working men in corduroy because
- the poor were rarely able to afford a photograph
- initially photographers were not interested in recording social history or “ugly” things
- the pictures that exist tend to be “snaps” rather than quality pictures
- there are more pictures of women than men
- there are more US pictures than UK pictures available on the internet
- some of the men below may be wearing fustian or corduroy
Corduroy still has a working class, slightly rebellious character and became fashionable in the 1960/70s, especially in universities, as men changed out of woolen suits in something more comfortable, but also fairly warm and durable.
But there were times when this unpretentious fabric made its way into high fashion. If you make anything with corduroy here are a few tips
- The wales – the ribs that run down the fabric – vary in size from 3 wale or jumbo cord (just 3 wales per inch) to pincord, which features as many as16 wales per inch.
- Make sure the wales run evenly down or across the garment – consider cutting each piece separately so the wales run along the grain line of the pattern
- You can get pure cotton, or mixed fibres, or cotton with a bit of elastane in it. If you are using an elastance product use a lightweight interfacing around pockets, zips, waistbands etc.
- This is a fabric with a definite nap so make sure all the pattern pieces run in the same direction. I prefer it in a downwards direction.
- A needleboard is a marvellous thing. I used one in college and they work brilliantly. I don’t have one. I would say press on the back side with steam rather than too much pressure, but cord is not too prissy and will spring back in the wash.
- Use a slightly longer stitch length as the stitches can sink in. It is hard to upick!
- Use a slightly thicker needle than usual to cope with several thicknesses
Some of the coolest men look amazing in Corduroy. Some of my favourite actors play on the sensuousness, ruggedness and comfort of corduroy. It is soft to the touch, and creases in an attractive way. It is similar to denim in the sense that it improves with age and wear, imprinting the body inside on the outside over time.
So who should wear it and how?
- Corduroy has universal appeal for casual wear and is ideal for children, men and women
- It is a warm version of cotton so works well for autumn outfits, especially in natural shades, especially the browns. Personally I dislike the very bright or printed versions for adults, but each to his or her own
- A pincord shirt can be a nice item on a man or a woman seeking a warmer shirt
- Great for garments that get quite a lot of wear eg trousers, although they will wear out across the seat and at the knees
- As the material is somewhat bulky, trousers and skirts often work better in slimmer styles. Gathering only works with the lightest weights
- If you are very slim corduroy can add useful bulk, but overweight people should think carefully about light-reflecting and chunky fabrics like corduroy
- Juvenile styles such as mini-skirts, dungarees, overall type garments, baby doll dresses, and shorts all seem to work well in corduroy
- The stripes are flattering worn in vertical direction, making the wearer look taller and slimmer.
- Tailored items look a bit dated these days but good quality 1970s vintage cord items can be fun suitably mixed with modern items. Also companies like COS create corduroy suits for young men that want to wear a suit for work but don’t want to look too grown up or formal. These can be worn with casual shirts, T-shirts or trainers for a dressed down look.
- Corduroy caps and hats are horrible and should never be worn.