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 (1863–1947) 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 Between periods of popularity corduroy has often been mocked as old-fashioned and out-of-date, but each decade has seen the fabric return, each time slightly updated.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 (1942–1995) 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 (1946–1997) 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.
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"It's Okay to Wear Corduroy. Really." Esquire (September 1999): 131–35.