by Anthony Enright
Confession: In high school I had some inexplicable affinity for dressing like a rumpled middle aged lit professor; I’m not sure why I liked this look so much, but a penchant for corduroy had a big hand in my style selections at the time. There was (and is) something about corduroy that was warm, comforting and felt both grownup and like a personal indulgence. Upon clear-eyed hindsight reflection, my clothing in this period made me look like I was swimming in a sea of old man fabrics, but that was largely a matter of cut, and I never lost my love for a good corduroy. Uninterested in adding 20 years to my age and 20 pounds to my weight, I’ve avoided corduroy since. Lately though, new cuts, updated fabrics and unique designs have been luring me back to the corduroy fold, and I’ve been pleased with my finds so far.
If you haven’t discovered the joy of corduroy, let me extoll the history and virtues. The fabric is made by weaving extra sets of fiber into a base fabric to form vertical ridges called wales. The wales form what appear to be lines cut into pile. Corduroy comes in various wale sizes, which describes the width and dimension of the ridges in the fabric (the width of the cord equals the size of the “wale” in number of ridges per inch). The lower the “wale” number, the thicker the width of the wale, so a lower wale will appear more textured and a higher wale will be more uniform. Due to the softness and warmth, I like to think of it a socially acceptable way for a guy to wear velvet (which in fact the fabric is related to).
While it started out as a fabric for noble garments, the durability and lowered cost of cotton for manufacturing made the material ubiquitous in work wear during the industrial revolution. For the past few decades it’s existed mostly in the tweedy confines of academia, among the uber preppy, and the world of men who wear pleated trousers, but lately I’ve been excited to see better cuts and more youthful designs using the fabric. In light of that I have even (tentatively) indulged myself in a few new corduroy purchases, and I’ve found much to like. If you’re curious about the fabric, give it a try, this is definitely the season when it makes the most sense. A few of my favorite pieces are below. (Click photos below for links on where to buy)
J Crew 484 Corduroy Trousers:
These slim cut trousers from J. Crew are a favorite recent purchase, and a great low key way to introduce corduroy into your wardrobe. They come in a variety of colors, so whether you want a statement piece in a vibrant color or something that can act as a basic they are a go to. These will not have you looking like a grandpa, but they do have a nice vintage vibe that seems effortless.
American Apparel Stretch Corduroy Trousers:
With a wider wale than the pants above, and a bit of stretch to them, these are less of a classic, but an interesting take on the corduroy trouser that looks decidedly youthful. These are the cords for when you’re feeling more rocker than professor and come in a color range (scallop pink anyone) to prove it.
Gucci Slim Fit Corduroy Blazer:
You absolutely need a corduroy blazer, and while you may not need one from Gucci, why not aim for the stars and at least use the close cut and stellar detailing of this jacket be your guide when you shop. Fitter at the waist is key in making a corduroy blazer look modern and not schlubby.
Brooklyn Industries Corduroy Blazer:
It’s not necessary to spend a fortune on an heirloom piece, if you’re just looking for short term style look at Urban Outfitters or some of the fast fashion stores (like H&M) for a slim cut jacket. It won’t last more than a couple of seasons, but can get you a similar look while you watch your budget.
Burberry Prorsum Quilted Corduroy Jacket:
On the other end of the spectrum, this stunning jacket shows what can be accomplished with a wide wale cut close to the body and finished impeccably. Again, probably not something you’re going to be out snapping up on a whim, but as an inspiration piece I love the antique metallic color and rich texture of this blazer.
With Autumn in full swing and Winter just around the corner, it’s time to hunker down in some warm soft fabrics, and for my money corduroy is just the thing. Make sure to pay attention to fit and don’t mix to much corduroy at once. You’ll look dapper, keep warm and make use of an unappreciated and season appropriate fabric.