From their rustic beginnings to the sartorial spotlight, corduroy trousers have seen a resurgence that's placed them firmly in the category of must-have wardrobe staples.
Once the exclusive domain of farmers and the landed gentry, slim-fitting forest green styles at J Brand and flared men's corduroy pants by Prada perfectly capture the more contemporary spirit of the trend. And womenswear hasn't been missing out either – bespectacled style maven Jenna Lyons has been a stalwart supporter of sleekly tailored cords for most of her reign as Creative Director of J. Crew and Miu Miu, Marni and Chloé have all sent their own versions down the catwalks.
Throughout the decades, cords have slipped in and out of fashionable favour; while used for workers’ uniforms in Victorian England, they became popular with both farmers and country gentlemen by the turn of the 19th century. And they were perhaps at the height of their pomp as the go-to trousers for early 20th century Parisian intellectuals.
Historically, you'd probably expect to find cord trousers in rural settings. And Barbour is likely to be one of the first brands that springs naturally to mind, having long offered their versions in a variety of colours and cuts – but nowadays, this is far from the only label making liberal use of the fabric.
A bohemian take
Burberry offered a bohemian twist by pairing slim-cut men’s corduroy trousers with paisley shirts and fringed shawls for AW15. At Fendi that same season, the traditional material took centre stage in the label's menswear collection – as Vogue remarked at the time, there was "corduroy for days". Silvia Venturini Fendi took contemporary liberties by adding trompe l'oeil cord grooves to her leather jackets. But the Fendi trousers, in classic taupe and camel, were arguably the stars of the show.
John Ray for Dunhill worked the trousers into his 50s and 60s-inspired AW15 show, combining a David Hockney-esque nonchalance with an aristocratic aesthetic of tweed and chinos. And for 2017, cord trousers were just as present on the AW menswear catwalks. Officine Generale opened its show with a stark white pair of needle-thin men’s cords, while Giorgio Armani gave its designs an electric blue sheen. E. Tautz trousers, in dark inky shades, had a hint of the rural, but Off-White eschewed the traditional entirely in favour of oversized wide legs and stonewashed denim.
Taking the bohemian theme to the streets, the indomitable Nick Wooster has been a champion of cords for years, but among his best were a pair of shark-embroidered trousers by Thom Browne. Keeping the rest of his ensemble tailored and traditional, he let the artistry take centre stage.
But cords are definitely not the exclusive preserve of menswear designers; the womenswear catwalks have seen a similar resurgence in the workman’s trusted fabric, too. It was a favourite in the AW15 shows – models for Miu Miu, Balenciaga and A.P.C. demonstrated how differently the material can be worn. We were particularly struck with the Chloé tops and jumpsuits, providing yet more evidence that the fabric is quickly becoming a wardrobe staple in any guise.
But for Pre-Fall 16, Consuelo Castiglioni of Marni showed us all how to wear corduroy trousers in a way that banishes the traditional rural aesthetic. Her models walked in wider-than-wide Marni trousers in snow white and sooty black hues, gathered at the ankles and worn under fluted tunics. Pairing oversized white cords with an equally pristine off-shoulder crop top creates a distinctly 90s-inspired finish.
A 70s flavour
It would be practically impossible to discuss corduroy trousers without recognising the influence of the 70s. Jerry Garcia from the Grateful Dead often donned faded corduroy pants and shirts, spawning a new trend for a generation of rebellious teens. Denim manufacturers began producing cord jeans in a whole spectrum of shades, bringing the look to an even wider audience. But, as with so many trends, its moment in the sun turned out to be brief, and corduroy was shoved to the back of the proverbial wardrobe for nearly 30 years.
A few decades on, however, and designers have been dipping into the archives to revive 70s trends. For the Vanessa Bruno Pre-Fall show in 2016, the designer drew on Slavic motifs – such as embroidered yokes and fringed sweaters – and wove them into her 70s theme. Deep merlot corduroy trousers with high waists and wide hems were paired with earthy capes and wide-collared shirts. A year later, models in Ellery tops and cropped, almost frilled flared cords walked for the label's Pre-Fall 17 show. The trousers wouldn't have looked out of place on Jane Birkin, who took a typically insouciant approach in the 70s and dressed her flared cords with a simple tee, loafers and her trademark basket bag.
For her AW17 menswear collection, Miuccia Prada combined the prevalent normcore aesthetic with a 70s flavour, styling her camel coloured men’s corduroy pants with simplistic V-necks and patched jackets.
Contemporary fashion is no stranger to the frequent revival of past trends – so it’s little surprise that cords are once more being championed by designers. The attraction of corduroy trousers has many layers – at once they offer tradition and recklessness, earthiness and a cosmopolitan spirit. Since the 18th century they've been stationed in wardrobes across a diverse cross-section of society, and they remain an equalising element of fashion today.