It’s going to be a good time.
A comfortable cloth with a durable heritage, velvet buck is the ideal sartorial crossroads where sophistication meets toughness in a surprisingly soft package. Learn more about the sturdy fabric you’ll want to make sure you wear plenty of in the cooler months ahead.
What is Corduroy?
While corduroy also shares its name with a sartorially challenged bear searching for its lost button, the name of the fabric predates Don Freeman’s 1968 picture book.
Legends claimed by menswear titans such as Sir Hardy Amies and Alan Flusser stated that the name originated as an Anglicization of the French corde du roi, or “king’s cord”, referring to its use as royal hunting livery. However, recent research has determined that this was a false etymology and that the term evolved from a description of the 18th century duroy, a coarse fabric used in English country clothes. As it was specifically the Manchester area that saw the rise of this fabric, some regions continue to refer to corduroys as “Manchester cloth”.
Whether it was English countrymen, French hunters, or an entirely different group that pioneered this durable yet attractive fabric, corduroys had become established throughout Europe and the United States by the 20th century. In the following decades, corduroy followed trends that normalized sportswear, bringing this corded cloth in from the cold as it became shorthand for various models of masculinity, whether worn by hunters warming their hands by the fire or Ivy professors with chalky elbows pours an after-recitation dram.
Corduroy’s unique texture consists of raised rows of corduroy cotton, each of the same width created by a process known as “tufting” that weaves the cotton into these Wales.
Wait, tufting? Wales? Let’s step back a bit.
Tufting is a process that weaves yarn through a fabric base to form a pile that can be adapted to everything from clothing to rugs. Although it dates back centuries, the tufting process has been modernized with the development of tufting guns, which have also been embraced by DIYers.
The type of tufting specific to velvet buck pulls the piled fabric into lengths of fluted cord, known as a wale and supposedly derived from the Anglo-Saxon term for the ridge made in a plowed field.
Corduroy is so defined by its wale census, referring to the number of these combs that can fit within an inch, ranging from less than two to more than 20. A lower wale number suggests a wider string; to borrow an example inspired by corduroy among hunters, this echoes how a 12-gauge shotgun shell is wider than a 20-gauge.
- Narrow-waisted corduroy, also known as “pincord”, “pinwale” or “pincord”, often measures 16
- Medium or standard-wale buck is typically 11-wale
- Wide-wale velvet buck, also known as “elephant cord”, is often 4-wale or 5-wale, although more extreme variations such as 1.5-wale are often produced
How to wear Corduroy
True to its sportswear origins, corduroy has most traditionally been made in more earthy colors such as brown, tan and olive, although the fabric’s well-established popularity outside the realms of hunting has led to fashion-forward outfitters making corded garments in vibrant shades of burgundy, orange and violet , in addition to more conservative tones such as navy blue and grey.
Corduroy pants typically range between trousers and more casual jeans, although both styles—like jeans—tend to become more comfortable for their wearers the more they’re broken in. Based on how the fabric falls, wider corduroy pants are often reserved for dressier, pin-string pants that are better suited to jeans.
Looking at the screen for cinematic examples, velvet bucks gave the lower half the action-ready look that Bruce Willis had in Die Hard 2 and Daniel Craig during the final act of Skyfall; John McClane’s pleated cords echoed dress pants as J. Crew Ludlow Corduroy Suit Pant while Craig’s 007 opted for more pared down corduroys as Slim-Fit Flex cablealso from J. Crew, or the Buck Mason Stretch Cord Ford Standard Jean.
Corduroy’s chameleon-like attire also applies to jackets, as both sport coats and leisure jackets can be suitable uses for corduroy trousers.
Matthew McConaughey in True Detective Season 1
A corduroy jacket can be one of the most versatile pieces you own, with the ability to be:
- Paired with a shirt and tie a la Dustin Hoffman The candidateMatt Damon in The talented Mr. Ripleyand Matthew McConaughey throughout the first season of True detective
- Layered over a broken-in work shirt or flannel like Ben Affleck in Argo and Robert Downey Jr. in Zodiac sign
- Gives a relish addition to a simple black T-shirt and jeans like David Duchovny’s self-destructive author Californication
As proven by jeans, a doctrine you can apply to buckskin is: if it can be made in denim, it can be made in buckskin. (The reverse does not apply, as Justin Timberlake illustrated at the 2001 AMAs.)
With that in mind, the world of casual corduroy jackets opens up to chubby jackets, truckers, shackets and more. Like their denim cousins, these can be further insulated with stacked sherpa lining and collars like these Huckberry and Levi’s jackets.
Casual corduroy jackets suggest a rugged comfort with the outdoors, whether it’s the dark olive coat worn by Chief Hopper on Stranger Things or the blood-stained burgundy blazer worn by Jack Nicholson for the infamous “here’s Johnny!” fall in Evil hotel.
I like to wear casual corduroy jackets with jeans, which allows me to mix the compatible philosophy of a trucker jacket and jeans without wading into tricky double-denim territory.
Once you’ve worked your way up through corduroy jackets and pants, you might be ready to upgrade to the full corduroy jacket. While it’s never been essential in a men’s wardrobe (for example, you probably shouldn’t buy one unless you already own a gray or navy suit!), neck-to-ankle dressing in matching tailored corduroy can be a comfortable alternative – where comfortable alternatives would be appropriate – to the traditional worsted.
Paired with the right shirt, it could bring some elegance to date night; paired with an Ivy-inspired button-down shirt and tie, it could suggest a kind of sidewalk profession like Robert Redford’s portrayal of intrepid investigative reporter Bob Woodward in All the President’s Men.
Following the visibility of Daniel Craig’s Massimo Alba’s wired “sloop suit”, worn for an action sequence in his James Bond swan song, No time to die, I predict we may see a renaissance in corduroys. If nothing else, owning a corduroy jacket also automatically arms your wardrobe with the jacket and pants that can be worn as separates.
Corduroy makes a great shirt jacket or even heavier alternative to an Oxford shirt in the cooler months. They can have both refined and robust aesthetics.
This corduroy on the classic denim western shirt makes pairing with jeans easier and makes it a great option for layering.
Even more Corduroy!
Beyond jackets and pants, designers have expanded corduroy into shirts, caps, and even shoes! A corduroy shirt is one of the coziest pieces you can own, whether it’s a button-down shirt to tuck in with pants or jeans, or a looser-walled overshirt to layer over your favorite tee.
Even if there are no corduroy pants in the rest of your outfit, it can also make a good accent on the collar of yours Storm Rider style jacket or literally top off your look with a plain baseball cap like these options from Amazon, J.Crewand Huckberry.
How do you like to wear corduroys?