What happened to this year’s fall weather? We’re nearly halfway through October and the weather has yet to get cold enough for real outerwear. Here in the Bay, I’ve only been able to wear the occasional bit of corduroy – it’s too warm for things such as waxed cotton jackets, cabled Arans, and heavy tweeds. On the upside, corduroy is great for an imaginary fall. With an oxford cloth button down and some flannel trousers, it’s comfortable enough for days hovering around the 70s, while still having that bit of coziness that makes autumnal clothes so charming.
The odd thing about corduroy is that it’s one of the most romanticized fabrics, but also the least sexy. Once used for workwear – even at times being standard issue for US military trousers – modern references conjure up images of frumpy humanities professors wearing thin wired frames while sifting through dusty archives. Or perhaps the bookstore clerk who wears jumbo wales with bad leather shoes.
Corduroy’s redeeming quality, however, is that it references all that is good, particularly where it sits in the canon of classic American style. Like oxford cloth button downs, it symbolizes casualness, education, dependability, and trustworthiness. Costume designers often use the fabric in films to subtly signal a character’s virtues. Robert Redford, for example, famously wore a wheat colored corduroy jacket in his role as Watergate reporter Bob Woodward in All the President’s Men. The idea was that the honest, no-frills jacket was an outward manifestation of Woodward’s personality.
Unlike wool, however, comfort in corduroy has to be earned. Zegna makes a cashmere-cotton cord, and some ready-to-wear brands have stretch-infused formulations, but most corduroys you’ll find are woven from pure cotton. Much like denim, corduroy doesn’t have any give. It’s stiff and slightly uncomfortable – at least until you break it in. I was a little skeptical of my corduroy suit from Steed at first, but after a few dozen wears, it’s become one of my favorite garments. In earthy colors such as wheat tan, russet brown, and mossy green, corduroy goes with anything semi-casual – from dark jeans to gray flannels, fuzzy sweaters to oxford button downs, Tyrolean shoes to chunkier wingtips.
There are some great pieces here and there this season. If you’re interested in ready-to-wear tailoring, Camoshita has a tremendous double-breasted suit at the moment. The Armoury also stocks a single-breasted blue corduroy jacket, which is softly constructed and wears like casual outerwear (they call it their travel jacket because it can be stuffed into your suitcase). Additionally, the new Easyday collection at Drake’s – which aims to be a more affordable version of the company’s mainline – offers a lovely olive corduroy suit. It can be hard to wear olive in more traditional worsteds, so corduroy offers a nice opportunity to add some diversity to your wardrobe.
The great thing about a corduroy suit is that you can easily break the pieces up into separates. The jacket pairs well with flannel, denim and cavalry twill; the trousers do well against sweaters and work coats. If you want just the trousers alone, however, more causal varieties can be had through Ralph Lauren, Levi’s, and Brooks Brothers. For something you can wear with sport coats, check out Rota, Ring Jacket, and Drake’s. They’re a lot more expensive, but the higher rise pairs better with tailoring.
If want to wear corduroy in a more casual way, check out some of the corded outerwear from brands such as Eidos, Engineered Garments, 1st PAT-RN, Naissance, and Barena. Some of those look like trim, unstructured sport coats – which I’m typically not crazy about – but the silhouettes work if you treat the jackets more like casual outerwear, rather than traditional tailoring. Proper Cloth also has some made-to-measure needlecord button-ups, which would look great with jeans; Kapital offers a workwear inspired, wabash Western corduroy shirts that could be used with fatigues. Levi’s Vintage Clothing even has off-beat, patchwork corduroy pants, pictured above. I admittedly like them, although they’re highly questionable in terms of taste.
Anyway, until the weather gets cooler, I’ll be in corduroy. The fabric is great for an imaginary fall.