The Bumpy History of Corduroy

Wednesday March 28, 2018 Written by Leta Keens

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We don’t mind being laughed at in our yellow corduroy flares. “Don’t you know the origin of the word ‘corduroy’?” we ask, explaining how it comes from corde du roi, ‘cloth of the king’, as we change the side on our Jethro Tull vinyl. Seems we’ve been wrong for years, though; apparently, no king ever endorsed the fabric, and no one’s quite sure where the term comes from. One theory claims
 the inspiration was the ‘corduroy roads’ of frontier America, which were made from logs that resemble the fabric’s ridges, or ‘wales’.

Then again it could derive from ‘duroy’, a coarse woollen cloth from England. Or from a bloke called Corduroy – we’ll probably never know.

Here’s what we do know: corduroy’s ridges are formed from rows of woven, twisted fibres, and its velvety texture comes from their being sheared. Its forerunner 
was fustian, an ancient Egyptian fabric that slowly evolved as it travelled the world on
the bodies of Catholic abbots, highwayman Dick Turpin, French servants and other odd bods.

The first recorded use of the word ‘corduroy’ was in 1774, when it was worn by everyone from farmers and country gents to schoolteachers and printers. Because it’s so tough, by the middle of the 19th century it became the fabric of choice for workmen’s uniforms, and was used for rough-and-tumble kids’ clothes as well as WWI soldiers’ trousers and Ford Model T upholstery.

Its working-class links made it a perfect anti-establishment symbol during the 60s, and it’s had its ups and downs (more downs than ups, we’d have to say) on the fashion front ever since. Even the Corduroy Appreciation Club – which was founded in New York in 2005, built to a membership of 832 within
 a year and cleverly nabbed November 11 (11/11) as Corduroy Day – currently lies dormant. Cloth of the king, indeed. 

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Image: Fantastic Mir Fox, 20th Century Fox