Corduroy for Boys Clothing: Country Trends

Figure 1.--Many British schools adopted cordyroy short pants as part of their school uniforms. Some schools also had cord jackets.

Corduroy was considered a rough material for workers clothing for much of the 19th century. By the early 20th century it was being adopted for children's and youth clothing. It has been popular at times in the 20th Century, especially as casual dress, but has in most countries suffered from competition with denim. The warmth and comfort of corduroy was recognized. Corduroy has proven popular in England, France, Germany, the United States, and many other countries.


As in France, cord shorts were widely worn by Belgian boys during the first half of the 20th century. Some private Catholic schools had uniforms with blue cord shorts and white kneesocks. Cord shorts were regulation for most youth groups, including Chiro, KSA, VNJ (all black) and scouts (brown or dark blue) , but other boys wore them as well and they came in different colours, even green, off-white, beige. A HBC reader writes, "Here in Belgium corduroy certainly is a boy's fabric. It is still being used for Boy Scouts' shorts in many of the groups that still wear uniforms. I cannot recall any Girl Guides' group that would use corduroy for their uniforms with one exception: the Flemish nationalist VNJ (coeducational) use the material both for shorts and skirts.


We have very limited information aboiyt corduroy in Canada at this time. We believe that it was extensively importecd from England as used for working clothes. We note that the term corduroy bridge was used in the early 19th century because the tree logs in the rough bridges looked rather like the ridges (wales) in corduroy. In the 20th century many Canadian boys wore cord knickers as in the United States. A French Canadian reader tells us, "I mostly wore corduroy pants during the 1940s as a boy. I wore cords until I was about 15 years bold. Until 15, I wore tweed with shirts and ties. By myself, I changed my style in going in the Eaton basement for what seemed cheap garment place. I liked that deep green pant I wore with rust color turtle neck. My girl friend did the same with green corduroy skirt , coordinated with rust turtleneck too and long wool rust stockings. At that time (around 1965-1975), the fashion was really nice. Elle Review was outstanding in style. " As in America, corduroy was a popular fabric for winter school clothes. A HBC reader writes, "I wore "cords" or cord long pants every winter to school from grade 1 to grade 7 during the 1980s."


I'm not sure if corduroy was worn for boys' clothes in the 19th Century. Soldiers in World War I wore corduroy and perhaps it was introduced as casual adult and boys' clothes after the War. I believe that corduroy first began to be used for short pants in England during the 1920s or 30s. The long-wearing characteristics of corduroy attracted the interest of mothers. I believe that boys wore them for play in England much as modern boys wear jeans. Some schools adopted cord school shorts as part of the school uniform, I think primarily in the 1950s. An HBC reader in England recalls how extensively corduroy was worn in the 1940s-50s. Cord shorts seem to have declined in popularity during the 1960s as jeans became increasingly popular as synthetic fibers like Terylene provided other low-maintenance fabrics for boys' clothes. By the 1970s cord shorts had mostly disappeared although several private schools continued to use them and cord longs for school uniforms.


The use of corduroy in France has varied over time. Cord shorts were commonly worn by French boys. They appaer ti have been especially popular during the 1930s and 40s. Several Scout groups adopted them for their uniform. A few private schools also adopted them--usually blue cords. The French term for corduroy is " velours côtelé ". The special corduroy for babies and little children has very small cordeds (wales) is referred to as " velours millerais ". It was expensive, but used for quality short pants, rompers, and jackets. Women working these garments for younger children were called " culottière ". It rquired careful work, especially because these garments were were made with lining, but the seams could not show. By the 1950s these corduroy clothes became popular outfits for Sunday wear and less expensive versions appeared. French Scouts from an eraly period wore cord shorts and some still do. The most common color for Scout shorts is brown. Cord shorts were also worn to school in some cases part of a school uniform. While most French schools did not have uniforms, some private Catholic schools did require uniforms. The uniforms were commonly a whote or light blue short worn with grey or dark blue short pants.


Corduroy fabric has been made a long time in Germany. The German poet Heinrich Heine's father imported corduroy from Manchester, England in the 1850s. He writes about it in one of his books. Corduroy was used in Germany mainly for men's working trousers and jackets. Corduroy was also used for the traditional black cord Zimmermannhose (carpenter's trousers) with a flap front as in Lederhosen. Hard wearing corduroy was adopted by many Wandervogel boys during the late 19th and early 20th century for their short pants hiking trousers.


HBC has no little on the use of corduroy in Ireland, but suspects that it was similar to the use in England. 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.]

(The) Netherlands

HBC has developed considerable information on Dutch boys clothing, but we do not yet have much information on corduroy. We do not yet have any written reportsm but believe it was a popular fabric for boys clothes, especially for pants. One 1952 magazine ad for heavy sweaters show a boy wearing wide weal cord trousers. A Dutch reader reports that corduroy was popular and commonly worn in the Netherlands into the 1970s. By the 2000s, however, only older men wear cord pants. wear pants of this material. While popular rib-cord, small weal, wide weal, all types were worn. One reader reports, "In the late-1960s and early 70s, I had blue and yellow coloured small weal pants. In the summer my mother made short shorts from the winter pants, not simply cut-offs but with a neat hem."

New Zealand

HBC has little information on the use of corduroy in New Zealand. A New Zealand reader, however does recall wearing corduroy as a boy growing up in New Zealand. He recalls wearing cord shorts at 16 years of age.


Scottish boys like English boys wore cord shorts. A few private schools adopted them for school uniforms. At this time we do not know f any differences between Scotland and England concerning the use of corduroy for boys clothing.

United States

We still know relatively about corduroy in America. We believe it was worn in the late 19th century, but have little information at this time. Presumably the first corduroy material in America. was imported from England. We know that it was worn in the early 20th century. Corduriy in the 1920s the fabric was commonly worn in America for boys' knickers. Many boys went to school in cord knickers. They were generally considered cold-weather pants. Cord jackets were also popular. Boys also wore long cord pants as knickers began to decline in popularity by the late 1930s and early 1940s. Cord sports jackers were wiorn in the 1950s-70s. Unlike England and France, corduroy was not commonly used for short pants, until relatively recently. Corduroy shorts did appear in America during the 1970s-80s. They were made by the Ocean Pacific company and first appeared in California. They were cut much shorter than the cord shorts once worn by English boys.


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Created: September 6, 2003
Last updated: 9:19 PM 3/6/2009