Stuffy to Stylish: the Evolution of Corduroy

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A Sunday roast followed by a brisk walk aside, is there anything more Autumnal than corduroy? The soft, durable, ribbed cotton fabric that we know today originated in 19th Century Manchester as factory workwear. It was later adopted for war work, perhaps most famously for the Women’s Land Army.

Like other hard-wearing fabrics that originated as workwear, such as denim, the textile has since been co-opted by the sartorial minded. Throughout the 60s and 70s the fabric became a symbol of anti-establishment and a favourite amongst musicians and artists from the Beatles, Picasso, Robert Redford and Steve McQueen. Despite being worn by the King of Cool himself, on screen there remained a tendency for costume designers to view the fabric as stuffy. Epitomised by Donald Sutherland in Animal House, corduroy has long been synonymous with professors and teachers alike quoting Shakespeare while sporting elbow patches and a pipe.

Simultaneously cool and stuffy, it is in this very juxtaposition that the success of corduroy today can be found. In 2018 Drake’s celebrated this relationship in a Fall/winter campaign shot and based around collegiate life in Oxford, an aesthetic that Ralph Lauren have been championing for years.

Elevated from its humble beginnings, corduroy has found its way into luxury evening wear through designers such as Brunello Cucinelli, who creates elegant corduroy dinner jackets. Corduroy’s status in contemporary fashion has been cemented by personages such as Jeff Goldblum and Stanley Tucci, and what would the world of corduroy be without director Wes Anderson?

So what’s next for this resilient material? From Drake’s dusty pink corduroy suit to Hackney atelier Sonia Taphonid’s vibrant corduroy jumpsuits, playing with colour has allowed corduroy to seep into other seasons. I think we are some way off corduroy swimming trunks but the use of corduroy in summer fashion is growing. Whether it is a desire to dress more like Robin Williams in the Dead Poet Society or the wish that I had been fashionable enough to wear a corduroy suit in my university years, for me the fabric will always be associated with a certain autumnal academia.

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