Few fabrics can claim to have as roller-coaster ride through the whims of fashionability than corduroy. It veers from insanely popular (the 1970s) to the fabric of derision (the 1980s) and back again with alarming regularity. However, forget its use as wide collared flared pant suits in the Grateful Dead era, the one garment where it always works is casual trousers.
Corduroy has a history that goes back to ancient Egypt but became the fabric we would really recognise in the late 18th Century in Northern England as a durable and comfortable cloth suitable for workers trousers and jackets. The name is often thought to come from corde du roi (cloth of kings) but in fact originates from the more prosaic cord duroy (duroy being a rough tough woollen fabric). It’s distinctive ridges are called ‘wales’ and the fineness is denoted by the number of wales per inch so that chunky jumbo cord your professor had a jacket made from is 5 wale whilst your elegant cord chinos are probably 12.
Despite its working class origins, cord became very popular with the US preppy set as a winter alternative to chino cotton and this continues to this day. Modern versions (and suddenly very much in trend now) are cord jeans, but mercifully in a nice slim shape rather than the big flares beloved of Seventies stoners.