What is Corduroy?
Corduroy is one of the easiest fabrics to identify at a glance.
Corduroy is a ridged velvet fabric. Its surface is covered in vertical pipelines of soft, fuzzy fabric. The ridges, called “wales,” are easily visible even at a distance.
As a fabric corduroy is sturdy and soft. Its visible pattern puts it on the casual end of fabrics, and it can be considered slightly more formal than denim.
Corduroy is described by the number of wales per inch. The more wales per inch the smaller the wales have to be, so a 16-wale corduroy has a much finer and less visible texture than an 8-wale corduroy. Fine corduroys higher than 16-wale are sometimes called “pincord” or “needlecord.”
Two different threads are used to construct the textured weave of corduroy. In most cases these are both cotton, but sometimes wool is used for the second, softer thread, making a warmer and “fuzzier” corduroy called wooly corduroy.
The most common use for corduroy is casual trousers.
Corduroy trousers have been around for over 100 years, and their basic construction has changed little during that time. They are usually cut like blue jeans, with a low waist and wide, un-tapered legs.
The softness of corduroy makes them more comfortable (though less durable) than denim jeans. Over time the wales start to wear down where they've been rubbed, creating a subtle pattern throughout the trousers.
Wider wales make a more distinctive, less formal garment. Pincord corduroys in brown, black, gray, or khaki can be acceptable business-casual wear, while wide-wale corduroys in bright colors are a perennial youth favorite.
If you don't have a pair of corduroy trousers it's worth investing in a few as a more unique alternative to blue jeans or casual slacks. They'll stand out as something different from other people's styles without being too aggressive (unless you get them in a bright, neon color — then they're aggressive).
Corduroys can be dressed up with a pair of good brown dress shoes and a collared shirt and tie, or they can go with soft sneakers and T-shirts for casual weekend wear. The only standard you really can't meet with corduroy is a formal business-dress situation.
Less common than trousers, corduroy jackets have the exact same advantages: the texture gives it a little bit of eye-catching uniqueness without being fashion-forward or experimental. You're still well within the safe zone of traditional menswear, but you're looking interesting.
Like corduroy trousers, the fineness of the wale divides corduroy jackets into differing levels of formality. Pinwale corduroy is sometimes used as a material for navy blazers in place of the more common serge, creating a softer-edged and textured version of the classic style.
Tougher corduroys with wider wales are used to make colored sport coats. These are the classic autumnal jacket, perfect in brown or dark green with flap pockets and a leather button flap to hold the lapels closed in bad weather.
Over a white shirt and tie a corduroy jacket looks like an Ivy League professor's outfit; with blue jeans and a striped undershirt it would be right at home in a line dance. It's a very versatile casual garment.
The texture of corduroy lends itself well to patches and accents. Elbow patches in either leather or contrasting-colored corduroy are a staple of corduroy jackets, as are patch-style pockets sewn onto the outside of the jacket, built-in belts with buckles, and other “country” details from the sport coat's genteel origins.
Actual sportsmen going out hunting will want something a bit more modern these days, but for the man looking to evoke the classic gentleman on his weekend leisure time the corduroy jacket remains a reliable staple.
Matched corduroy suits do exist, and are usually made in a casual color with a medium to wide wale. They can border on the eccentric (but striking) in colors like hunter green and royal purple. In brown or gray they're more like a wool tweed — a slightly rumpled-looking staple for older, dignified men. For the most part, however, men content themselves with sport coats, pairing the corduroy jacket with unmatched trousers in a different fabric.
The history of the corduroy shirt is so firmly utilitarian that fashion writers almost never bring them up. As far as most designers are concerned corduroy is for trousers or jackets and nothing else.
That does the fabric a bit of a disservice. Corduroy shirts are tough, breathable, and get softer as they age, making them an excellent material for work shirts. The long-sleeved, button-fronted style with a turndown collar and one or two front breast pockets is traditional, and it looks just as good in corduroy as it does in light chambray or thick flannel.
Men who wear long-sleeved work shirts on a regular basis can get a lot of mileage out of a corduroy shirt. It makes a nice change from less distinctive fabrics, and it looks fine under a blazer or casual sports jacket. (Corduroy shirts should not, however, be paired with a suit and tie.)
Matching Corduroy Clothing
A key rule for corduroy (or any visibly textured fabric) is to wear one piece at a time. You don't want a corduroy jacket over a corduroy shirt, or with corduroy trousers in a different color. A matched corduroy suit is an exception here, but that should never be paired with a corduroy shirt either.
Corduroy goes best with smooth, solid garments that help bring out its natural texture. Light cotton slacks with a tight weave pair well with corduroy jackets, while corduroy trousers are a natural mate to any lightweight cotton or linen shirt.
The shoes you wear with corduroy trousers will have an impact on your overall formality, so choose them carefully. With dark leather lace-ups they're casual office clothing, while something like a boat shoe or sneaker turns them into a just-for-fun style. Belts have the same effect; simple leather is for business and colored cloth or textured leather is for play.
At the end of the day the versatility of corduroy is its biggest selling point. Wear it with anything to make a textured, interesting outfit that draws people's eyes to you.
Discover How The Right Image Helps You Make More Money, Attract Women, & Command Respect
Learn the secrets of style in a structured environment leveraging my proven step-by-step master programs.