Corduroy – suitable for men, women and children

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
Workmen in Fleetwood, on a break
Workmen in Fleetwood, on a break

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
    corduroy culottes
    Cord Culottes
  • Juvenile styles such as mini-skirts, dungarees, overall type garments, baby doll dresses, and shorts all seem to work well in corduroy
    Alex in Mini skirt
  • 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.

12 Responses

  1. Gill

    Perfectly timed post – I’ve just this minute ordered some bright purple cord to make another TATB Cleo dungaree dress, as I’m so pleased with my first denim version.
    If there’s any left over, I definitely won’t be making a cap. I HAVE BEEN WARNED!
    Gill xx

  2. ceci

    I’m now curious about corduroy hats – don’t think I have ever seen one and I can imagine it making my hair fuzzier than usual…..


  3. annie

    I’m always happy to learn something. And because of your post, today’s “learn” was the debunking of the “corde du roy,” apparently a myth. I went to Google and read about a new-to-me fabric, duroy. And read about fustian too. Thanks!

  4. Linda Galante

    Great post but I have to disagree with you…I love a good corduroy hat! I made a corduroy dress last year and it is by far my favorite thing to wear. What a fabulous fabric. Thanks for deepening my appreciation for it.

  5. Makeitanywear

    I love wearing pinwale and “cordless’ corduroy (i.e. cotton velveteen) jeans for casual occasions when denim just don’t seem right. Currently I have a black and a hot pink pair.

  6. Kim

    I love cord but recently found some that had been stashed for too long and had become very fragile – it ripped easily between the ribs. I was peeved but learned from it.
    Another very informative post. Thanks Kate.

  7. Sue

    I have a bit of cord in my stash, some of it left over from when my boys were babies and I made them cord trousers! I’ve made Mark cord trousers and he adores them, and I love the 1970s floral pin cords and bought some in a vintage store when I was in London. Another interesting post, Kate, and I didn’t have an aversion to cord caps and hats until you mentioned it, and now I might have 🙂

  8. Alison aka indigotiger

    I rather love corduroy, and often make my pinafore dresses from it when I can acquire some in a suitable weight and color. I don’t really like the wide wale, as that can be too stiff and architectural for my needs. I recently purchased some beautiful “baby-wale” online that was almost too far the other direction, since it was so thin and finely woven as to be quite drapeable.

    I have seen some men’s newsboy-style caps done in corduroy that looked quite good, in a rustic sort of way, but I would not use it for most hats because the nap going in all different directions would give a very patchy effect.

  9. Joyce Latham

    The Beatles helped to make Corduroy popular too! I love it. Recently, just made the granddaughter some lovely soft baby cord spring pants for her birthday.
    Wonderful post as always Kate .
    Joyce from Sudbury

  10. Stephanie

    Coincidentally Gianni was telling me last night that I should make a plum cord suit to wear to the theater. He’s off sourcing fabric for me right now. Moleskin is called fustagno in Italy and is still quite popular for trousers and sometimes jackets in more traditional shops. I have two pairs of fustagno trousers and Gianni wears the fabric all winter. I would like to see him in more corduroy as he looks wonderful in a cord jacket he sometimes pulls out for the theatre (in a camel taupe brown ). Very interesting post.

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