England: Joe--Corduroy Experiences during the 1940s-50s


Figure 1.--This photograph was taken of my younger brother and sister and me in 1951. I am wearing a corduroy limber jacket, a style that was very popular at the time.

I want to thank you for your splendid web-site, especially for the pages dealing with corduroy which I remember wearing as a boy. They were available in many glorious colors. I also had a cord bomber jacket. I remember that my first pair of long trousers were cords. The cords I wore as a boy have now been replaced with denim. Corduroy is still available, but the quality is not a patch on the corduroy that was around i the 1940s and 50s.

My Boyhood

Shorts and bomber jackets

I can clearly remember being bought my first pair of corduroy short trousers in 1948 when I was five 5 old. The corduroys were a rich dark-brown velvet and I was entrigued by the softness of the stripes and the way you could stroke the pile up and down. In the 1940s and 50s many boys in the U.K . wore corduroy shorts, and together with a matching "bomber"jacket they were considered very suitable clothing for young boys.

Long trousers

It was usual for boys in the U.K. to wear short trousers until the age of 13 or 14. It was a big step in one's life when you had your first pair of longs and you would have to suffer the comments of family and friends. I was 13 when I had my first pair of long corduroy trousers. My mother's diary for 1956 has the entry: "Joe weanted to go to Worcester to buy some long corduroy trousers. He came back very pleased with some grey corduroys costing 2 -1s- 6d." I can remember being fascinated by the especially pronounced whistling sound made by the extra length of corduroy as the stripes rubbed together when I walked. I note that others on HBC described a "purring noise" My aunt, commenting on the fact that I was now in long trousers, told me that her family used to call corduroys "whistlers" because of the sound they made. I was so keen on my corduroy trousers that I bought two pairs for my 14th birthday! My mother notes in 1957: "Joe went to Gamages after school and bought himself two pairs of corduroy trousers, one brown costing 2-5s-0d and a fawn pair costing 1-10s-0d." Nowadays a good pair of corduroy trousers can cost 80 or more!


Figure 2.--This photograph was taken in 1957. I am the older boy in back wearing cord shorts. My mother bought both me and my younger brother a pair.

Corduroy in the 1950s

The material in those days was far superior to anything produced nowadays--it was known as "velvet corduroy" because of the deepness of the soft pile, although of course cotton was used in their production. There were a variety of glorious colours available, from dark and golden brown, through to fawn, bottle green, blue, and the various shades of grey for schoolwear. Corduroy also had a shine to it and the stripes would shimmer in the light. In the 1950s, corduroys used to be piled high on shelves in clothing shops because it was so popular. New corduroys had a distinctive smell because of the way the material was produced. I once heard the smell described as "rather like the smell when you open a can of peaches". Corduroy produced today no longer has that smell.

Manufacturers

There were many famous makes of boys' corduroy short trousers, including "Ad Astra", Parker and Pickles, Watson Prickard of Liverpool, Meakers of Piccadilly, and of couse the major London stores such as the famous children's clothing store Daniel Neales, and Harrods, Billing and Edmonds, Gamages etc. Until the mid 1990's a firm called Graham of Scarborough made good quality corduroy shorts--their material was velvety but of a rather thin quality. Alas, this firm has closed down as corduroy has been surpassed by denim and modern textiles. Two firms that still produce corduroy short trousers mainly for the school uniform trade are Shorties and Glengarnock (in Scotland), but the quality is not a patch on the corduroy that was around 40 years ago.






Christopher Wagner






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Created: February 16, 2002
Last updated: February 16, 2002