The long-held view on corduroy has not been a particularly deferential one. The cotton fabric at once recognisable for its wales (ridges) has shouldered a stigma, derived from ideologies, often attained from historical cultural references such as books and films, that it belongs in crusty old wood-panelled libraries. It is not just in stale academia that it is remembered to be common. Farmers have long been tarred with the sartorial crime of stepping off their Massey Fergusons in fraying cords, while impoverished artists, not without a long list of crimes against clothing, can count loose-fitting, vermillion-stained corduroy jackets among them. The cord even became synonymous in Le Chat Noir, a hotbed for the fin-de siècle literary and artistic avant-garde. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec created a number of show bills in the venue featuring famous cabaret performer Aristide Bruant in a dark corduroy worker’s jacket. Corduroy gained a reputation as a ‘poor man’s velvet', but a surge in popularity in the 1970s meant corduroy strode back into people’s minds as a versatile, durable fabric with a tactile finish. Today, it's an absolute must-have in a discerning gent's wardrobe, and while it might never be deemed smart, it is nothing if not chameleonic, proving extremely versatile when dressing up a casual look.
In Italian, corduroy translates as velluto a coste, or ‘velvet with a rib’. Woven in the same way as velvet, corduroy’s distinguishing feature is the striped effect formed by tufted cords, or ‘wales’. The size of the wale affects the width of the cords, and refers to the number of ridges per inch: the lower the wale, the thicker the cords.