The development of corduroy and changing fashion image can be followed in a variety of contemporaty texts. Paintngs and photographs offer also offer interesting insights as to who was wearing corduroy and the type of garments worn over time. The earliest reference we have noted is 1790, but the fabric appears to have originated in the 1780s. By the mid-19th century it was being worn by rural and working-class boys, but was worn by boys of all social classess during the first half of the 20th century, especially after World War I (1914-18). Since World War II (1939-45) the use of corduroy has significantly declined, being largely displaced by denim. At this time our references are mostly English, but hopefully our Continental readers will offer further information.
We have limited information on corduroy during the 18th century. There are some written references. Paintings rarely reveal fabrics like cordurouy. The earliest reference we have noted is 1790, but the fabric appears to have originated in the 1780s.
An English patent of 1776 mentions nearly everything of the fustian kind except corduroy.
Corduroy appears to have been a well-known fabric in England by the 1790s.
We know little about corduroy in the early 19th century, i part because paintings rarely are detailed enough to reveal corduroy. thwre are, however, a rage of written references. Corduroy by the 1820s (presumably even earlier) had become an important English export product. The English clergyman, Sydney Smith, complained in verse during a 1820 trade recession," No distant climes demand our corduroy, Unmatched habiliment for man and boy." The Scottish poet Thomas Aird describes a country boy who practices swiming on dry land, "unmindful how the grass/Or cloverleaves green-stain his corduroys". By the mid-19th century it was being worn by rural and working-class boys. English boys by the 1850s, probably earlier, were wearing cord garments. The popularity was limited to boys in rural areas and from working-class families. Posh parents at the time did not dress their boys in corduroy or wear the fabric themselves. Photography was invented (1839). Early photographs (Daguerreotypes and Ambrotypes) rarely are detailed enough to discern fabrics. This changed with the CDV and especially the caninet card which were not only done in much larger numbers, but are sometimes detailed enough to identify farics. And we note corduroy worn by boys who are not necessaeily working-class boys.
We see corduroy clothing worn by boys of all social classessin the 20th centuru, especially after World War I (1914-18). Corduroy knickers were a sraple for American school boys. Since World War II (1939-45) the use of corduroy has significantly declined, being largely displaced by denim.
Many early British Scouts wore corduroy short trousers with their uniforms. Corduroy shorts were also widely worn in the German Wandervogel. Some still view corduroy as a material for the working class.
French Scouts commonly wore corduroy shorts in th 1910s. We note a referene about an Irish boy ho recalls a corduroy suit his father purchased for him. (Because the family movd to ngland this proably reflects Ennglish as well as Irish trends.) The chapter titled "The Corduroy Suit" is from the autobiography of playwright Bill
Naghton. He was born in Ireland in 1910 and moved with his family to Bolton, Lancashire in 1914. He describes Saintly Billy tells the story of his childhood and contains vivid evocations of the impoverished mining communities in the North of England durong the 1920s and 1930s. The Corduroy suit is a chapter of this book where he describes a day when his bullying father grudgingly buys him a corduroy suit which he
disdlikes at first describing it as looking like a "workhouse suit", although from the context this may be because the jacket did not have a collar. He also objected to both the color and smell. The other boys in particular teased him about the smell. Gradually comes round to enjoy wearing it. [Bill Naughton, Saintly Billy.]
After World War I, corduroy was widely adopted for boys clothes having loss its working-class stigma. English and French boys commonly wore cord shorts. Some private schools adopted corduroy as part of the school uniform. Commonly it was adopted at prep schools, but some public schools also adopted it. Gavin Maxwell, the Scottish naturalist, remembers wearing corduroy breeches (knickers) at St. Wulfric's, a preparatory school in Eastbourne. He was there about 1916-17. We do not know, however, just how common cord trousrs were at English schools in the 1910s. State schools at the time did nor have uniforms. American boys wore cord knickers.
Corduroy was one of the most popular material for boys knickers in America during the 1930s. The knickers worn to school and everyday where were quite commonly made of corduroy. Cord was generally seen as a sutable material for fall and cold weather wear--one reason why they were commonly worn to school.
Cord shorts were still widely worn by British boys in the 1950s, but began to decline in popularity by the end of the decade.
The popularity of cord shorts and long trousers began to decline in the 1950s. The primary reason was the growing popularity of a competing fabric--denim. They continued to be worn as school uniform at a number private schools--mostly prep schools. Wide wale coduroy became very popular in England during the late 1960s for trousers, although the wale used in school shorts did not change.
Corduroy was still commonly worn by boys in the 1970s. The material was seen largely seen as a boy's fabric, bit girls' garments in corduroy were available. Denim was increasingly the favorite, but corduroy was still widely worn. Many European boys wore very short shorts diring the 1970s. These shorts were made in many materials. Two of the most common were deni, and corduroy. A wide wale cotduroy was popular for a while. A popular material for Cord shorts became quite popular in America during the 1970s and 80s. A California company marketed OP shorts, briefly cut cord shorts in a great multitude of colors. The thickness of the material was very thin compared to the corduroy used in British shorts. Some British schools introduced cord long trousers.
Several British preparatory schools continued to use cord shorts as did a few French schools. At the beginning of the decade, the brightly colored OP cord shorts continue to be popular in the United States, but begin to decline in popularity in the middle of the decade.
HBC notes that corduroy garments are much less avialble during the 1990s. HBC readers report that the corduroy that is available is of a much lower grade of quality than the corduroy they remember from the 1940s and 50s. Good quality corduroy has become quite expensive.
A reader in Washington writes, "I see a lot of cord fashions for yonger children, both bib overalls and jumpers. Cord seems more popular for girls than boys." A California reader writes in 2003, "Here in California some boys wear cord shorts, but not many. Long cords are still sold in the men's department. Suprisingly, most ot the cord shorts still on sale are the shortish type (like the OP styles of the 70s-80s)." Fashion magazines in 2003 rport that corduroy was an especially popular material, especially for girls. Many girls appear o be chosing corduroy over denim.
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