Pitti Uomo 103
The re-emergence of corduroy
Words & photography: Lee Osborne @sartorialee
Corduroy pattern book open to show a burgundy sample
One of the takeaways from the recent 103rd edition of Pitti Uomo in Florence was the re-emergence of corduroy in men’s tailoring. No longer the reserve of Geography teachers, it has popped up now and again in previous seasons, but this time around it was the defining fabric of the show. Everywhere you looked around the Fortezza da Basso and dispersing into the surrounding hallowed streets of Florence, stylish attendees of the show were sporting various iterations of the cloth, crafted into stylish 2-piece suits, jackets, utility wear, topcoats and even caps for both sexes.
Corduroy’s earliest ancestor was a cotton weave known as “fustian”, named after Fustat, the first capital of Egypt under Muslim rule, what is now the historical centre of modern Cairo, where it was first developed in 200 BC and remained a popular cloth for centuries. Corduroy’s popularity soared in mediaeval times when Italian merchants introduced the fabric to Western European nobility. In pre-central heating times, the aristocracy clamoured for the fabric’s insulatory properties, with Henry VIII reportedly a big fan.
Montage of 8 different people modeling corduroy clothing
Corduroy was back out in force at the recent Pitti Uomo 103 in Florence, Italy

Types of Corduroy

Standard corduroy

While standard corduroy fabric has 11 wales per inch, usually a corduroy fabric having anywhere between 8 and 13 wales per inch, is considered to be standard corduroy.

Pinwale corduroy

Pinwale corduroy features a large number of tiny ridges within every square inch. The finest forms of pinwale corduroy can feature up to 21 wales per inch.

Elephant cord

This type of corduroy, often referred to as Jumbo cord, has very large, thick cords, reminiscent of the distinctive folds on an elephant’s skin, with a wale number ranging anywhere between 1.5 and 6.
It was initially assumed the name of the cloth was coined from a 17th-Century English corruption of the French “corde du roi” or “cloth of the king,” but it seems more likely the term is a compound of the word “cord,” referring to its tufted, row-like appearance, and “duroy”, a coarse woollen fabric which emerged in the late 18th-Century in Manchester, England. It was utilised as factory wear during the Industrial Revolution and remained very much a fabric of the working classes until its revival in the swinging sixties: college students and beatniks alike cottoned on to the idea that cords were a great alternative to jeans and chinos. In the 70s and 80s, the fabric appealed to preps and surfer dudes (who wore cord shorts), only to be re-appropriated by rockers during the grunge era of the 90s.

Corduroy is comprised of a series of evenly-spaced vertical rows of soft pile, arranged in a distinct pattern referred to as a “cord” or a “wale.” Different types of corduroys are classified by the number of lengthwise pile rows per inch each possess — feathercord has 20-25; pinwale 16-23; regular wale 14; wide wale 6-10 while broad wale has 3-5.
Traditionally the fabric is cut with the pile brushing in an upward direction, giving the fabric a better sheen. In the late 1960s, to give the fabric a more contemporary feel, some designers were known to have reversed the direction of the pile. It’s a personal choice as to whether you prefer the pile to run up or down.
Pattern book showing orange, maroon, blue and green corduroy samples
Pattern book open to an orange corduroy
Our corduroy options can be found within our Eskdale Trousers Collection bunch, and are available in two weights: 15oz and 22/23oz 100% pure cotton.

If you want a fabric with a bit more give and flexibility, akin to stretch denim, then why not try the corduroy available in our Comfort Zone Cotton Stretch book. The stretch corduroy comes in 8 and 14 wale in the same weights as the Eskdale set.

Generally-speaking, corduroy is not a fluid, drapey fabric, so it is best employed on more fitted garments. For a more formal tailored look needlecord is preferable as it's less bulky and sits neatly on the torso, with traditional flap pockets on the jacket and side-adjusted trousers. Cuffs are optional but I find the trousers sit better without. A more louche, relaxed cord suit made with a chunkier cord would probably feature patch pockets on the jacket to reflect that and belt loops on the trousers. It's definitely worth commissioning a full suit as it can always be broken up and worn as separates.