A guide to corduroy: Colours, wales, fibres, bunches
I’ve been buying and wearing more corduroy in recent years – including the new dark-brown jacket above, from Sartoria Ciardi.
I think the reason is that if you’re not dressing for a formal office, worsted is likely to feel out of place; flannel can be a bit smart too, at least as a suit; and cottons such as moleskin or canvas lose too much in the way of elegance.
Which leaves you with tweed, which I love, but can be a little hairy for some or even rural, again certainly in a suit. Plus you’re not just going to wear one material all winter.
This is not to suggest that the appeal of cord is merely one of last resort, or process of sartorial elimination. A well-worn corduroy jacket has a distinct knockabout charm, encompassing how it softens over time, the way it shows signs of wear, and a slightly romantic side that replaces the stereotypical geography teacher with a flaneur carrying an old paperback in the pocket.
But what is the best colour, weight, and number of wales? Why are some cords shinier than others, and is mixing in wool or cashmere a good idea? Here’s my two cents.
Dark brown and dark green are the best colours to start with – like the brown at top, and the green shown above. Darker, more muted versions stand out less and are easier to wear.
Navy seems appealing because it’s such a staple menswear colour, but often it looks like a poor imitation of a worsted or flannel. Grey can work well, but it’s a little unusual and wouldn’t be my first choice – it too is better in a mid- to dark shade, and with a little brown perhaps (as above).
A tan or wheat colour, like my double-breasted jacket below, is really nice, and might be better in cord than any other material. But it is very dependent on tone. The jacket I commissioned here was too strong, for example. Keep it a little darker, a little more muted.
The same goes for brighter colours, such as pink (also below). Because of cord’s texture, and more casual appearance, it is quite an easy way to wear colour. But again the watch word is muted.
Black is unusual, but is actually one of the easier ways to wear black as a jacket or suit. Cream is great as trousers, even though it always looks best on a sunny day, and needs careful looking after.
After colour, most cords are defined by their ‘wales’, the ribs that run along the cloth (a 12-wale cord has 12 of them to the inch). A mill with a big cord range will offer everything from 5 to 12-wale cord.
I’ve tried pretty much all of them, and I’d say the best way to think of the choice is probably as between two halves – roughly 5-8 and 10-12.
The former, with thicker cords, will usually be heavier, feel softer and have more of a sheen (cord is technically a type of velvet). It will often drape a little better, but the sheen puts some people off. I tend to have it more in trousers, but did go for that in my Ciardi jacket shown top.
The latter, extending up to what is called needlecord, will usually be lighter, feel drier and have less of a sheen. It is what you see most in ready-to-wear suits these days, and is what I’ve usually had for suits and jackets.
I do like both though, and I think the choice depends on the look you’re after. And if in doubt, go somewhere in the middle – 8 or 10 wale.
Weights and weaves
Thicker wales tend to be heavier. “There’s no technical reason they have to be, it just tends to suit the material,” says John Wright at Brisbane Moss. “So often the weight is largely determined by the number of wales you want.”
Differences in weight are also often due to how densely the cord is woven – the number of picks or ends. As with most materials, English mills generally weave more densely than those in Europe, so you’ll find that the same 12-wale cord from Brisbane Moss will be heavier than one from Solbiati. (Even when weaving in different places – eg Brisbane Moss weaves some cord in Austria.)
Denser corduroy, like denser flannel, will be stronger and last longer, but not necessarily feel as soft (though it does soften over time). Unlike flannel, I’m happy with softer, lighter cords too, particularly in jackets. As a general rule on weight, I’d stay within the mid-range, say 270-350gsm (9.5-12.5oz), and go up or down within that depending on what seasons you want it for.
Bedford cord, by the way, is not a cord. It is simply woven with its texture, rather than being a pile material that is cut down. And there is a variation of cord, thick/thin, where you get alternating thicknesses of rib. Neither is a look I particularly like, but in either case the choice is about look rather than anything like performance.
Good corduroy is 100% cotton. Adding in a stretch fibre, such as elastane, seems like a good idea but it means you’re always fighting with the material – it allows you to stretch the material, but it also means it’s constantly pulling you back. The cord also doesn’t drape or otherwise behave as well.
Cashmere is sometimes added for a more luxurious feel, and I like that in a jacket. In trousers, however, it adds little to the feel and undermines their shape. They are even worse at holding a good line.
I have seen cords with just wool added, which would be better, and even with silk. But I would always tend towards pure cotton.
The British weaver is often where other mills source their corduroy, and it has a big range as well as being one of the cheapest. However, not all tailors carry the bunches, and the bunches there are aren’t always updated, which comes with being primarily a mill rather than a merchant. I’ve used the T1 bunch several times, and the GS02 for a chunky pair of trousers.
Holland & Sherry
Holland & Sherry usually has the biggest range of colours in corduroy, and has that reputation among tailors. It’s where I sourced my pink cord (though I got one with stretch by mistake). They’ve had supply issues recently, and when I went to check out the current range, nothing was on offer. But I assume that will be temporary.
John G Hardy
The Eskdale trousers bunch from John G Hardy is a solid option for English cords, and I’ve used them a couple of times for heavier weights, including these from Thom Sweeney. It’s the bunch I would go to for a heavier option in the absence of Brisbane, or if I wanted more colours. They offer a 22g and 15g, 7 or 12 wale.
This is a new merchant, and not one I’ve tried, but they are English and seem to have a nice range. In 100% cotton they offer 10, 11 and 12 wale, coming in at 17, 13, 15 ounce respectively.
The continental European mills tend towards lighter cords, more usually with stretch, that change every season. If you want something lighter and perhaps more unusual, they’re always worth checking out, but less so for a standard cord or something you saw made up on a friend. Zegna and Ariston are similar to Caccioppoli, particularly in regards to the stretch.
Scabal is in the European mould, but is particularly know for its cotton/cashmere bunch, which I’ve had tan and olive jackets out of, but as I said isn’t absolutely ideal for trousers. It’s 8% cashmere, 92% cotton. They do a 12 and a 7 wale, and I personally prefer the 12.
Solbiati was always an interesting mill, but even more so now they’re part of Loro Piana. You see that with their linens, and the cords are similar. When I checked a couple of months ago, they were offering two types of cotton/linen mix for corduroy – 53%/47% or 63%/37%, 330g or 500g respectively. I haven’t had anything made in it, but Tony Sylvester has had a Bores jacket in it, which will be covered on PS soon.