The Mystery Of The Corduroy*

Image Source Flickr

*This is a collaborative post*

So, 'they' say that, “fashions change but style is eternal”; Well I feel there is an anomalous species of garment which as of this moment I am entirely unsure under which of these two categories I would or even could place it. Jeans straight cut with plain white tee equals eternal style; suit, 3 piece, tailored, English cut; also equals eternal style. Flared or ripped jeans, fashion, studded leather boots also fashion, body piercing, definitely fashion, for the time being at least; you get my point. The species of garment fabric I am referring to is of course the legendary corduroy.

You see, corduroy first came into existence during the 18th Century, but it really became prominent as a material worn by the masses during the height of the Industrial Revolution. Cords were particularly popular with the working class populations of the Industrial towns the length and breadth of the country. It was the 'go to' fabric and before long absolutely everybody was wearing corduroy, from suits to trousers to jackets; Rich and poor could afford to invest in some sturdy hard wearing and durable corduroys, but then almost as quickly as it had arrived on the scene, cords just seemed to disappear, overnight, as if a radio news bulletin had warned the population that the production and or the wearing of corduroy clothing may well lead to one's demise. So that was it; Gone, done and dusted, or so 'they' thought.

Fast forward 60 years, that's right, the “Swinging Sixties” as they are affectionately referred to (by those rare creatures who lived through that time and more impressively whom can still remember it) and like a sudden  sub-conscious societal flashback, corduroy is back, and by the time the Seventies arrived, corduroy was ready to explode onto the global scene. From the corduroy flares in bold vibrant yellows and blues to the more earthy dark browns and rusty orange colours, to the eccentric looking suits, corduroy once again, as if in some Victorian inspired renaissance in the midst of all the freedom, protests for world peace and the general enlightenment of western society with regards to sexual relationships, gender, equality, race and all that good stuff; for some reason amidst all that liberal flowery hippy love and rock and roll, everyone wanted to dress in the same material as their austere, poverty stricken rough and tough Victorian forebears which besides anything else is quite a quirky and interesting fact in and of itself.

Then the 80's arrive and again cords (as we corduroy lovers affectionately refer to the fabric) were gone, dying out again. Replaced by the popularity of Jeans especially. It's easier for me to understand the popularity of cords in the Victorian era due to the affordability and the afore-mentioned durability of the fabric, chimney sweeps and manual labourers as well Farmers would reap the benefit from this and also from the maneuverability afforded by corduroys and the warmth they offer in cold temperatures, you can see some cool examples of modern Corduroys at Chums


And now in the 21st century, again there has been and is currently ongoing, an absolute revival of the fabled corduroy, I'm seeing it everywhere on the high street again. Why? I am not sure of the reason, nor even if there is 'a' reason, (more likely there are more than one), but maybe those same benefits of corduroys to the Victorian wearer are actually the same reasons why it has never fully left our collective fashion psyche as it were, perhaps it is a material just too warm, too comfortable and too striking to be forgotten completely.

Image Source Flickr

It is interesting that a material which was once valued so highly by the Victorians would later become adopted by a society and culture in many ways completely antithetical. Cords were functional and served a purpose. perhaps with the liberal society in which we live corduroys could be perceived as a symbol of a harder time, a more austere time, but by its popularity in the 60's and 70's corduroy became one of the most visual props of those decades, as recognisable as Rock 'n' Roll and Hippies; a symbol of liberality and of the forward thinking open minded progression which was sweeping our culture. Maybe in today's world, once again, the revival of the corduroy could be the indication of a people who are awakening in some sense. We are more connected now than ever, more connected to each other and to our history, more aware of the human footprints being left on this Earth. Perhaps the corduroy loving hippies of 50 years ago are continuing to influence fashion trends even now in our liberal society.

The velvety comfort of corduroy I believe is its ageless/timeless USP (Unique Selling Point), the velvety feel enables the wearer to luxuriate in wearing the fabric. So comfortable are Corduroys that many believed the name itself to be from the French, meaning Cloth of Kings, although this has later proven to be apocryphal, it nevertheless indicates one of the most alluring attributes of this particular type of cloth. But still, I am struggling to decide whether cords are simply a carousel like fashion statement, or a staple of quintessential British style and comfort, its intermittent revivals proving its timeless application and worth. 

*Written by Michael David

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