Corduroy: A History

Corduroy is on trend this autumn and it’s shaking its association with geography teachers and hippies, but where does this classic fabric come from originally?

Corduroy construction

Corduroy is a cloth made of cotton or cotton mix with a raised ribbed surface and underlying weave. The texture comes from woven, twisted fibres lying in parallel rows or “cords” forming the cloth’s texture. The cords have a flat channel between them. What I’ve noticed in the current trend is that the cords are wider than traditional corduroy, creating a bold new look.

The cloth has a velvety feel, but is a hugely durable cloth and is soft to the feel and its character has been pretty similar since the 18th Century.

Roots

Corduroy can trace its roots back to ancient Egypt, where it was made in the city of Fustat, with the cloth being known as Fustian when it was documented in Europe in the 12th-14th Century. It was sought after in Europe by Royal Families and started being copied and by the 16th Century was being made all round Europe. King Henry VIII of England was fond of Naples Fustian, then seen as the elite version of the fabric. Cheaper versions were worn by the man on the street and Dick Turpin ordered new fustian garments for his execution in 1739. Ribbed fustian became available and resembles the corduroy we know today, and by 1774 made the Oxford English Dictionary. The origin of the name comes from the French “corde du roi” – Cloth of the King.

Golden Era

 

By the turn of 19th Century corduroy was a the fabric of choice with country gentlemen and farmers alike, but started to be known as a working man’s fabric. It was mass produced in America by this time and was known as “poor man’s velvet.” By the turn of the 20th Century it became popular as a children’s fabric and many schools and even the French Scouts adopted it as their uniform. During WWI it was popular as a fabric for soldiers trousers and by 1918 Ford had started using it as the upholstery in its the Model T. Post WWI it was popular as a work and sportswear fabric until it went out fashion during the era of new synthetic fabric of the 1950s.

Back Into Fashion

The hippy era of the late 1960s sees corduroy coming into fashion again with fashion looking for more organic fabrics. Bold colours and corduroy fabrics are seen as anti-establishment. This only lasted until the 1980s when corduroy became unfashionable again, in an era of slick looks.

By the late 1990s a new era of stretch corduroy started appearing, which allowed designers to make corduroy clothing with less bulky shapes and it’s been here since, coming back into fashion now with a host of top designers using it in their 2017 autumn/winter collections.

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