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What is Corduroy?

Paulla Estes
Updated May 17, 2024
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Corduroy is the word used to describe a type of fabric that has parallel, lengthwise cords or ridges. The word is derived from the French word for "Cord of the King." Originally made of cotton, the fibers of the fabric are normally twisted as they are woven. When the weaving is finished, the fibers create the long, parallel pattern that has become familiar to us all. Today, corduroy can still be made from cotton or any number of other fabricated fibers including polyester, rayon and acrylic.

This fabric usually has very narrow spaces, known as channels, that run between the cords, baring the base fabric; but the thickness of the cords provides for a generally warm material. Similar to twill, corduroy is a durable cloth, often considered second only to denim. It has long been used for pants and jackets to be worn in cold climates, but its durability also makes it good upholstery for chairs and sofas.

The width of a corduroy cord is commonly called the wale. The wideness of the wale often dictates the capacity in which the material will be used. For instance, fabric with narrow wales is usually softer to the touch, slightly less durable and often used for shirts, jackets or caps. Corduroy with wide wales is commonly found on pants or furniture.

The name brings to mind the term "Corduroy Road." This is a type of road, much like a plank road, but with entire logs used instead of flat planks. Much like the cords in fabric, the logs are placed perpendicular to the direction of the road, usually over a wet, muddy, or swampy landscape. Though the ride is a bumpy one, it is a quick method for making a passable route across otherwise difficult, wet terrain.

The word has also become famous thanks to a children's book by Don Freeman. The book, entitled Corduroy, is about a stuffed bear of the same name, his life on a department store shelf, and the little girl who ultimately buys him and gives him a home. The title character wears a set of green corduroy overalls.

Corduroy is a popular fabric normally associated with casual or outdoor wear. In addition to clothing and upholstery, it can be used for footwear, hats, handbags, luggage, bed coverings and slip covers.

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Paulla Estes
By Paulla Estes
Based in Maine, Paulla Estes is a freelance writer and website editor with a B.A. in English Literature from George Mason University. With over 15 years of experience in the field, Paulla appreciates the flexibility and consistency that comes with contributing to WiseGeek. She relishes the opportunity to continuously learn new things while crafting informative and engaging articles for readers.
Discussion Comments
By anon261445 — On Apr 16, 2012

Yes, Corduroy is very much a formal wear.

By LisaLou — On Jun 06, 2011

I enjoy the look and feel of wearing corduroy, but my first thought when I see the word is the Corduroy book series for kids. This was one of my sons favorite stories when growing up. Reading about corduroy the bear was always one of his first bedtime reading choices.

I have kept those favorite books to pass down to the next generation of corduroy lovers.

By myharley — On Jun 04, 2011

Corduroy has always been one of my favorite fabrics to wear in cooler weather. It looks slightly dressy, but also has a casual feel to it. I have many items of corduroy clothing in my closet, and always look forward to wearing them when there is a chill in the air.

They always look nice and the fabric holds up well over a long period of time. My daughter even has a corduroy comforter that she loves for her bed in the winter.

By honeybees — On Jun 01, 2011

@anon85712 - I see corduroy more as a casual wear and as far as wearing it on weekdays I think it depends on what your job is and the dress code at your job. At most places, corduroy slacks would be considered appropriate for business casual, but not for formal wear.

Some corduroy fabric actually looks a little dressier than others, and if you are also wearing a corduroy blazer you might be able to pull it off just depending on your company guidelines.

By anon85712 — On May 21, 2010

My question is corduroy a casual wear or formal wear material? Can I wear corduroy on weekdays?

Kindly give me the answer. Regards, Passionate

Paulla Estes
Paulla Estes
Based in Maine, Paulla Estes is a freelance writer and website editor with a B.A. in English Literature from George...
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