Corduroy's a funny thing. In my experience, people either love it, or hate it. Furthermore, those who hate it would never even consider wearing it and this is a real shame. For this reason, I thought that it might be worth producing a piece wherein you can find some suggestions on how to wear it in a modern, accessible and attractive fashion. The danger with corduroy perhaps, is that its synonymous with old fashion 'fuddy-duddy' dress. This, I feel, is an unfair association. Corduroy is a deeply tradition cloth it is true, but it comes in many different colours, weights and thicknesses, which make it extremely versatile and easy to wear in a number of different ways - both traditional and modern.
Let's begin with the name, 'corduroy'. This has its origins in the French 'cord du Roi' (or 'cord of kings' - hence my ever so witty title)... It is unknown whether this is due to the cloth's historical association with a French monarch, or whether the name is simply derived from some kind of French folk tale. The 'cord' element of the cloth is fairly obvious, the cloth takes the form of a series of vertical stripes, woven into a cotton canvass by weaving tufts of very soft, fine and glossy cotton fibres into the fabric, between the plain 'channels' of the base canvass. The density of these tufted fibres creates the jacket's pile. The 'pile' (a term that you'll hear applied to velvet cloths too) refers to the thickness of these soft and glossy cotton tufts. The denser and thicker the tufts, the finer the pile.
The other important thing to get your head around when it comes to corduroy is the 'wale'. The wale refers to the width of the individual cords of the cloth, and the higher the number of the 'wale' the more cords can be fitted into the length of an inch. Thicker, more traditional cords associated with countrywear, will measure in at around 8 wale, whereas a more modern 'needlecord' will generally be around 12 to 14 wale. Due to the thickness of corduroy cloths, they'll often weigh in as quite heavy, between 14 and 16 ounces. Corduroy is essentially a slightly more rigid and durable form of velvet and this of course makes it more wearable. It will require less maintenance - most corduroys are machine washable - and more easily steamed or pressed on their reverse than velvet. Some corduroys can be very luxurious, blending in silk or even cashmere (again, the same principle follows with velvet) but given that corduroy is often chosen for its durability over other cotton cloths, more expensive cloth mixes tend to be reserved for velvets.
My first principle for you to absorb here. The higher the wale of the corduroy, the finer it is and the more modern and fashionable it looks. The second rule of corduroy clothing, is to keep everything slim. The third, is that its versatile; corduroy is not solely the preserve of the casual trouser. Having said that however, corduroy trousers are most certainly a good place to start, being perhaps the most ubiquitous use of corduroy today. I tend to wear cords over jeans, because I find them fundamentally more comfortable and as you will have gleaned from this blog, I don't go in much for casual denim. I'd suggest that to prevent yourself from falling into the baggy-trouser trap, keep the wale fine (wearing 'cord' or 'baby-cord' as opposed to chunkier corduroy) as the slimmer stripes on finer cords look more modern in themselves. Similarly, keep the cut of the trouser slim and fitted, with a relatively low, modern rise. For more on getting the trouser silhouette right, see my latest Mensflair column on the subject. When I say slim, I really mean that the legs of the trousers should be as fitted as possible for a neat, clean line through the leg - I don't expect you to pack yourself into skinny-fit cords. My own legs here are a good example; anything but slim, but the cords I'm wearing were tapered by an alterations tailor to slim the legs down.
In a similar vein, corduroy and tweed are (let's face it) a classic combination, but again, there's a way to do it right. Obey the rules set out above: slim legs, a casual, soft fine wale cord with a contemporary rise (for a chino-like trouser) solid, smart-casual boots (these plain, whole-cut Jodhpur boots are a suitably contemporary choice) teamed with rolled-up hems on your trousers keep the look modern and debonair. If you're not rolling up your trousers, then I'd suggest keeping the hem's plain (as on the lighter blue trousers above), as the soft, textured nature of corduroy, and the fact that it'll almost certainly be thrown through a washing machine a couple of times a week, means that the cloth tends not to do formal turn-ups very well.
With bright colours in mind, I have another suggestion. To get the best out of a corduroy blazer, keep the wale very fine, look for a good quality cloth and pick a rich colour. There's nothing more dull than a predictable brown or beige cord jacket that gets worn to death, but corduroys come in such a wealth of colours that giving some bolder options a try really can make for a wonderful centre piece of your smart-casual wardrobe. I wear this jacket a lot, and it will go anywhere and do anything; its relaxed in terms of the informal colour and cloth, but its highly structured and the cloth is beautifully wear-resistant. Thus, it's formal enough to sit alongside tailored trousers for the office, and again, the colour gives the jacket a hint of fun, suitable for dressy dinner or drinks events too. For pure casualwear, there is also something very reassuring about a fine baby-cord shirt, its soft, comfortable and something about just feels luxurious, yet very easy to wear. Many high-street retailers offer a couple of options each season, and they can make for an excellent change to classic cotton shirting fabrics. The forest green option with a casual button-down collar shown above, lends itself to a casual ensemble, with its acid-washed cloth and unstructured collar and cuffs.
That's essentially all there is to it - my suggestions for modern corduroy pieces. Experiment with bright and unusual colours, use fine wale cloths and keep everything fitted and slim - simple really.