views updated May 18 2018


Sometimes called the "poor man's velvet," corduroy is a soft, durable fabric that has been popular among people of all classes for almost two centuries. Usually made of cotton or cotton blended with such man-made fabrics as rayon and polyester, corduroy is woven with loose threads that are then cut to create a pile, or thick, soft texture. Most corduroy has ridges, or wales, of this pile that run the length of the fabric. Fine or pinwale corduroy has sixteen ridges to the inch, while wide wale corduroy has eight ridges to the inch. Broadwale corduroy, which has a velvety soft feel, may have only three wales to the inch, and no wale corduroy has an almost velvet-like feel. Prized for its comfort and practicality, corduroy fabric is used to make all sorts of clothing, from baby clothes to stylish suits, and is a popular upholstery fabric for furniture.

Corduroy first became popular in France and England in the 1700s, where it was named corde du roi, or "cord of the king." Though it was first woven of silk and was used to make clothing for royal servants, many think that the name corde du roi was actually made up by a British manufacturer who wished to glamorize his fabric with celebrity appeal. By the late 1800s corduroy was being woven of cotton and mass-produced in factories in both Europe and the United States. Durable yet inexpensive, cotton corduroy clothing became very popular with the working class. In 1918 auto manufacturer Henry Ford (18631947) chose hard-wearing, luxurious corduroy as upholstery in his new Ford Model T automobile.

Since the 1950s corduroy has been in and out of style several times and has been worn by all classes and types of people. Between periods of popularity corduroy has often been mocked as old-fashioned and out-of-date, but each decade has seen the fabric return, each time slightly updated. In the 1950s and 1960s corduroy was stereotyped as the fabric used in sport coats with leather patches at the elbows, worn by pipe-smoking college professors. During the late 1960s and 1970s, however, corduroy increased in popularity. In 1966 Jerry Garcia (19421995) of the rock group the Grateful Dead frequently wore corduroy pants and shirts on stage, which increased the demand for corduroy clothes among a whole generation of rebellious youth. The faded, worn look of the 1960s gave way to splashy color in the 1970s, and jeans manufacturers responded with "cords" or corduroy jeans in a wide variety of colors.

After the 1970s corduroy was not considered fashionable, even though in 1982 popular fashion designer Gianni Versace (19461997) introduced an entire line of men's clothing in corduroy. In the late 1990s a "new" corduroy was once again introduced, this time with spandex added for stretch, or no wales for a rich velvety look.


Holch, Allegra. "Wale Watch." WWD (May 1, 1996): 68.

"It's Okay to Wear Corduroy. Really." Esquire (September 1999): 13135.


views updated May 18 2018


Many sources claim the origin of the word is derived from the French corde du roi or "the king's cord." The fabric was supposedly used to clothe the servants of the king in medieval France. However, there are no written documents to credit this etymology. It is more likely that the term originated in England, from a fabric called "kings-cordes," which is documented in records in Sens, France, from 1807. Another possible origin of the name may be from the English surname Corderoy. This spelling was used in reference to the fabric as early as 1789 in America in a newspaper advertisement from a corduroy weaver in Providence, Rhode Island.

Corduroy is a durable fabric that is woven with three sets of yarns and has vertical ribs, or wales, that are formed by cut-pile yarn. The third set of yarns, which is generally loosely spun, is woven into a plain or twill weave backing in the filling direction to form floats that run over four or more warp yarns. A corduroy with a plain-weave backing may be referred to as "tabbyback," and a twill-backed corduroy can be called a "Genoa-back." Twill backing is more durable because the weave is denser and the pile tufts are held more tightly. The floats are cut after weaving to form ribs through the use of specialized machinery. The uncut fabric is run through the cutting machines once for ribs that are widely spaced apart and twice for closely-set ribs. The ribs are rounded with the longest floats in the center and the shorter floats on either side. After the pile is cut, the fabric is often singed and brushed to produce an even-ribbed finish.

Corduroy may be piece-dyed or printed in patterns and is named according to the number of wales per inch. Variations of corduroy include featherwale, pinwale, medium wale, thick-set corduroy, broad wale, wide wale, and novelty wale corduroys, in which different widths of wales are arranged in patterns.

Corduroy is used for trousers, shirts, jackets, skirts, dresses, and in home furnishings such as pillows and upholstery. Developments in the production of corduroy include the addition of spandex to provide more stretch in the fabric that is used for close-fitting garments.

See alsoNapping .


American Fabrics Encyclopedia of Textiles. 2nd edition. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1972.

Gioello, Debbie Ann. Profiling Fabrics: Properties, Performance & Construction Techniques. New York: Fairchild Publishing, 1981.

Kadolph, Sara J., and Anna L. Langford. Textiles. 9th edition. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2002.

Linton, George E. The Modern Textile and Apparel Dictionary. 4th edition. Plainfield, N.J.: Textile book service, 1973.

Montgomery, Florence M. Textiles in America 1650–1870. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1984.

Wingate, Isabel, and June Mohler. Textile Fabrics and Their Selection. 8th edition. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1984.

Marie Botkin


views updated May 23 2018

cor·du·roy / ˈkôrdəˌroi/ • n. a thick cotton fabric with velvety ribs. ∎  (corduroys) pants made of corduroy.


views updated May 17 2018

corduroy XVIII. prob. f. CORD + †duroy, †deroy (XVII) coarse West-of-England woollen stuff, of unkn. orig.