Succumbing to Corduroy

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I was finally entranced by the wide wales of corduroy.  How was I ever so apprehensive about it? It’s so cozy!

This may surprise you, but I used to not like corduroy.  Obviously I must have worn it in childhood (I feel like I lots of children in 5 pocket cords), but when I started developing an interest in menswear, it never really crossed my mind as a viable option for clothing.  I still remember a time when I was walking through the South Coast J. Crew with Spencer where we saw that they had a navy corduroy suit on display.  I was thinking about buying a J. Crew suit (which eventually became the tan suit you saw in some of the blog’s first posts) and Spencer kept saying that I should get the cord one.  I declined, saying that I know I’d never wear it.

In the end (as you can probably tell), Spencer eventually won out, as I love wearing cord, especially as the ivy-trad enthusiast that I am.  But upon reflection, I know that this was a definitely a journey, akin to widening my trousers; it just took time and inspiration for me to finally take the plunge.

For a while, corduroy really seemed like a novelty fabric.  It still sorta is in my eyes, even today.  To give it some credit, it has its roots in workwear, as it was made of cotton, the everyday cloth. It’s brushed treatment gives it a bit of a moleskin vibe (yet another workwear element) while its wales (the raised ridges) provides a visual texture that plants it firmly in casual-land. This is why you can see vintage workwear pants and jackets made from this cloth.

As time went on, corduroy became a popular choice for tailoring, bringing out of workwear.  It was especially popular during the ivy-style period (1950s-1960s) and even had its day in the disco era.  Because it was casual, it was used as a supplement to the cotton twill and poplin suits we have come to know.  Cord is typically heavier than most chino fabric, so it was the de facto fall/winter version, similar to how flannel is a viable replacement to certain worsteds or open weave fabrics.  Despite it being marketed around, it was typically worn by academics both young and old, cementing it as an ivy staple.

You can read Derek’s take (which are often much more insightful and detailed) on cord here and here.

Because it’s a “seasonal” garment, it was planted firmly in the tweed/linen camp.  I’ve touched upon this in the cotton suit article, but it basically means that I saw it as a non-LA appropriate garment that can’t really be worn apart from its season.  For example, cotton twills and open-weave jackets (like the Ring Jacket Balloon or Crispaire) can be donned on any Los Angeles day and can be mixed and matched together throughout the year; tweed and linen don’t share that quality. As corduroy seemed heavier and full of texture, I didn’t think it was versatile (and yes, I retroactively know that corduroy exists in spring or even summer appropriate weights).  However, you are correct in calling me a hypocrite as I definitely went out of my way to get some great vintage tweed jackets in my past.

The main point for me was that it was a bit too dandy and novel, which was surprising as I was definitely the most dandy out of all my friends (and IG feed to an extent).  Perhaps it was because it was the dandy thing of “boring people”, worn by those aforementioned academics instead of the cool movie stars.  Granted, I didn’t actually see them worn often, so this was probably just a subconscious thing. Perhaps it was the fact that the wales reminded me of pinstripes or hairstripes (striped fabrics were also a big hit in workwear), making it appear odd to me and a challenge to wear, at least for a while. And let’s not forget the brushed texture which evoked feelings of velvet, which again make it a dandy choice.

If I’m being completely honest, I still don’t know why I had all of these predilections, considering how quickly I latched onto ivy style after I moved away from 1930s-1940s menswear.  It’s all rather dumb in retrospect.  Perhaps it was simply because I never found a good one and most places I shopped at during that time did bad flashy cord that only cemented my dislike for it. But down the line something changed.

I could say that it was watching the Graduate and watching Dustin Hoffman’s failson rock a mustard corduroy jacket with denim.  It could be countless pictures of Wes Anderson popup on my feed (or on MFA).  Or, most accurately, it was the guys at Drake’s bringing corduroy (and by extension ivy style) into a new context for me.  Like with most things, it really just took a bunch of inspiration pictures

The more accurate reason was probably the fact that I started to expand my style.  I started to delve deep into earth tones and an even slouchier take on menswear, both of which are represented well in corduroy.  I mean cord is almost always 100% cotton after all, which made it a bit more appropriate for LA than tweed or even flannel.  I even learned to embrace the wales, because at least they were solid, unlike seersucker (which I still have reservations about).  And most obviously, with new inspiration comes new brands and products, finally showing me that there was indeed “good cord”.

How did I ever think this was a bad look? Was it the velvet like sheen? But it looks so slouchy!

Then for a while, my feed each fall/winter would be consumed by corduroy.  Drake’s was especially relentless, as they are quite literally the new ivy-trad brand, presenting their purview with aplomb.   They showed the different colors (it didn’t have to be vibrant holiday themes) and how well it worked with ivy staples like OCBDs and repps. It was even possible to be broken up (which was always my concern with the cloth), being a perfect match for jeans and flannel odd trousers/jackets. It was a perfectly fine cloth that has plenty of interest (the wales are good and not like pinstripes at all) and ages/breaks-in perfectly well, evoking the reasons why I liked cotton twill suits (no velvet connotations here).  Due to all these reasons, cord was also a great way to experiment with color (as I had seen before), as the brushed texture and dye treatments (often leading to a nice subtle color) make it better than getting a similar color in worsted wool (which can look tacky af).

I did eventually want to get cord for myself, but it still wasn’t high on my list; I still was unsure if it would be year-round appropriate for LA and felt that it would be better focusing on other pieces.  It was also around this time that I was creating my trademark casual style.   In any case, it’s a good exercise in restraint and wardrobe building, since I knew I’d wear a navy hopsack jacket more often than a cord odd jacket.  But at least I was certain that were I to get cord, it would be similar to the wear-experience of my Stoffa trousers, whose peach cotton feels like a light cord, just softer and sans wales.

Buzz of the Anthology, in a great orange cord jacket.

All I could do was look at all the great inspiration pictures that I would eventually succumb to. And man, the menswear industry pumped out some great cord inspo. Not only was Drake’s pushing that ivy style naturally, but I loved seeing it from the Armoury, especially because they work with Yamamoto-San of Tailor Caid.  There’s just something so special about seeing the classic ivy cloth done up in its hey-day cut.  Of course, it was also interesting to see more contemporary takes from both brands (and from menswear in general), whether it was in the form of cashmere blends, non-traditional colors, or even just in differing constructions (Drake’s did a super-unconstructed one and it’s great).

Also seeing cord rocked by people I actually knew didn’t help either (it definitely has been a small, but legitimate trend in the industry).  Soon it really was just another viable thing to add into my wardrobe, perhaps even more so due to the fact that my “hatred” was unfounded.  It actually cost me my fascination with tweed and flannel, which I now realized I went out of my way to wear in a two-season LA climate.

Purple is one of my favorite colors.

Olive cord from Tailor Caid, worn by Dick Carroll.

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Chase in brown cord trousers.  A great Ethan combo.

Yes, Cords are great as separates! That caramel/khaki is great as well.

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Cord brown trousers seems perfect for my style, as I love brown odd trousers in general.  You can also see how light these ones are.

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5 pocket cords from Uniqlo, worn to great success by Will.

Orange cord is great!

Joker 2019 vibes, but the qualities of the cord softens the burgundy effect, making it look easy and slouchy instead of dandy.

A cashmere blend cord from The Armoury.

Dark brown cord cut by Tailor Caid.  This was what sold me on the cord suit.

Jewel tones are great for cord, because again, it softens up the color.

Rust is a great choice for cord.

Olive is a classic.

Casual elements like patch pockets really help give life to a cord jacket.

BROWN CORD ODD TROUSERS.

Alex, giving his best Wes Anderson impression during his Drake’s days.

I really need a brown cord suit.

Jake Grantham, showing that you can be conservative and minimal with cord. No need to go full prep all the time!

My Cord Pieces

Admittedly, I don’t have many cord pieces.  It’s equal parts “I want to focus on year-round stuff” and “I have too much fucking clothing”.  But like I said, I can’t deny its appeal and the bug has been a long time coming. So I kept my eyes open for when the moment arises.  

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One of the first cord pieces I owned was a double pleated pair in chocolate brown, thrifted from some Goodwill who knows where.  The label was Polo RL and it really pushed me to keep my eyes open not only in thrift stores but on eBay as well, because they are pretty plentiful.  The color was absolutely perfect, as I love a dark brown odd trouser, and the fit was great; the slight taper kept things in the middle ground between vintage and contemporary.

However, I did do that thing where I “sized up” to create the higher waist and because the trousers were already roomy, they never looked or felt right right to me post alteration. In my eyes, it just seemed like I tried to hard to wear/tailor something that clearly wasn’t made for my body.   They might seem good in a picture, but that’s mainly because I’m wearing a jacket to cover the waist.  In retrospect, the issues probably weren’t that bad, but because they were cheap, I decided to pass them back to Goodwill and continue my search for a good pair of cord that I was happy with.  I like to only have things that “bring me joy” in my closet.

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My next cord piece (that I also passed on in the long run) was a late 60’s jacket.  Yes, the color was perfect for that ivy-trad vibe, but the cut of the jacket wasn’t.  The shoulders were padded, there was a suppressed waist/hourglass figure, and it was two-button.  Not necessarily deal breakers for most, but it felt odd to me, especially since I wanted to go ivy if I was going to wear a cord jacket.  It was a pretty great nod to 1930’s tailoring, but I was already moving away from that look.

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You can see that it’s a great match for a repp tie and grey flannels, but I knew that if I kept looking, I’d find one I was completely happy with.  It also wasn’t a wide wale.  I actually got this jacket a while back (if you can’t , but it coincides perfectly with the overall story of this blog: I’m constantly trying new things and discovering what I liked.  Unfortunately, I didn’t deem this jacket worthy of being altered like my other vintage stuff, so I gave it to a friend.  Marie Kondo, ya know?

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Now this was my speed.  I found this from the unfortunately now-defunct vintage store Roxy’s Vintage Deluxe.  You’ve probably heard me talk about this place before, as it was literally a treasure trove of vintage menswear mainly because it functioned as a film costuming warehouse.

During one of my trips to Roxy’s, I found this delightful sack jacket cut from a mustard yellow wide-wale cord.  In true ivy fashion, it had a natural shoulder, a 3-roll-2 closure, and hip-flap pockets!   You can see that there is a hole on one of the pockets, but I didn’t mind; this was perfect.  The color was a great match for fall with a bit of that retro vibe that has been popular amongst the menswear circles, providing pop in a slightly more subtle (mature?) way.  To top it all off, the cloth was great and broken in- at last I felt that “rugged yet smart” vibe from a corduroy jacket.

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It pretty much is the epitome of what you want from an ivy-trad cord jacket, but I felt like I wanted more!  Like I said earlier, the cloth is a bit of a novelty, and like tweed, you’re done best with at least a few variations (I have at like 2-3 checked tweeds).  I knew that a dark brown or perhaps a navy would be great, as they would literally be corduroy versions of the jackets I wore most often.  For now, the mustard jacket would do.

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While I had obtained a great jacket, I decided that trousers would (and should) be next. I wanted something to wear in fall that wasn’t the typical flannel or cotton twill, and we all knew that cord was the way to go.  See, I told you I was a hypocrite. But seriously, corduroy was definitely comfortable and better for LA living than my flannel trousers (which are light, but still rough and heavier in comparison).  Cord is still cotton and we all know that it breaks in like denim!

I considered getting a pair from Brooks Brothers or RL online as my friend Daniel has done in the past (something about buying new was cool to me), but Spencer alerted me to the fact that J. Crew (where he works) had a few models of cords. The one that stood out was a high-rise, double pleated pair under the Wallace & Barnes line.  They were on super-sale (because regular people don’t like high rise, pleats, or “wide-legs”) so I asked Spencer to grab me one.  I actually sized down (31 instead of a 32) because the 32 was too big, though I did get a bit of fit issues similar to what happened with the SJCs.


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Unlike the vintage pieces I handled before, these cords were new, which meant that they were stiff! This simply meant that I had to wear them as much as I could in order to break them in well.  I only got them near the spring of 2019, so I didn’t have much time before the sweltering LA heat returned once more.  Over time, they broke in quite nicely!

The Wallace & Barnes pants acted as my “dress pair” of cords, mainly due to their classic cut and details (double pleats and turn ups).  Upon revisiting them, I do think I’d like them more if they were a deep chocolate brown (akin to the first ones I thrifted) instead of the honey/caramel color.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a great shade(it would be dope if it was a suit), but it’s not exactly versatile for my personal style.

They definitely scream fall and worked well for whatever outfits I made them with! I was probably just being a picky motherfucker.

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Ethan’s fall style in a nutshell.

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Even works for an eboy/edgy look for Friendsgiving.

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Shell cordovan boots for the rain!

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The next pair of cords in my closet is perhaps a piece that is most different than the others since it’s a casual trouser.   These 5-pocket cords are also from J. Crew (from Spencer’s recommendation) and are done up in their 1040 athletic fit.  As a result, the leg is straighter and the waist is higher, which are things I like.  Regrettably, there is a bit of stretch in the cord, but it’s not too bad; it’s at least soft and easy to slip on, as they are a jean style anyway! Originally I had a 32 x 30 because I wanted them to end without a break similar to my 1960’s Levi’s Sta-prest for that young-ivy look. However, cord isn’t really stiff and crinkles easily, so it was better to go with a longer length and roll up the excess!

I actually like these much more than the more sartorial cords and that’s mainly due to the color. I definitely like to err on darker colors, since they’re much more versatile. Plus the contrast against white socks is great and with this color in particular, it’s a great match for brown and black footwear.  As a result, I’ve worn these a lot across sartorial and rugged-ivy outfits.  And due to their slim nature (at least in comparison to traditional pleated trousers), feel free to do some Drake’s looks if you do cop a pair.

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Turtleneck base layer and a down vest!

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A great sartorial-ish look from Spencer at Dapper Day.

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A cody and comfortable look using the cords in conjunction with an OCBD and the turtleneck base layer.

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One of my favorite looks, as it uses a grey tweed, bold stripe tie, and wallabies.

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Now Magill’s cords are something special.  Created by Todd Magill of Jack Spade fame, this new brand aims to make updates to ivy-prep classics. Think of it as a much more subtle version of Rowing Blazers that isn’t too clubhouse in its vibe.

I got these khaki cords as a gift from Todd after shooting a few of his products for the Bloke and getting to talk with him in person during the WM Brown event. And man, they are extremely soft.  They’re not as rigid or hearty as the my vintage 60’s jacket or the ones from J. Crew (so they crinkle easily and can’t keep a crease), but that’s all a part of the charm, making them much more suited for year-round wear in LA.

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The silhouette is big in the thigh but goes down to a contemporary taper, being a bit slimmer than the Wallace and Barnes ones.  The Magill cords feature a flapped coin pocket, button-fly, and  double dropped forward pleats, making them a mix between vintage-style and English inspired, adding to the unique character of the trousers.  There’s also a nice turn-up that marks them as a bit dressy (compared to my 5-pocket cords); I’m also happy that the length on the size 30 was perfect, as I didn’t have to alter them at all!

Textures.

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Perfect for being a preppy douchbag.

 

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Great against tweed!

 

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Now here is the ultimate one: the Brisbane Moss chocolate cord suit from Spier & Mackay.  You guys know that I have quite the fetish for brown suits, so purchasing this wasn’t a surprise.  I first saw the jacket on their website and considered it, but I knew a brown cord odd jacket wouldn’t get that much wear, since I have my Balloon.  Then I saw that they put up the matching trousers in a high-rise pleated variation. So it was all over.

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The cord is definitely the toughest I’ve ever felt, which makes sense since it comes from Brisbane Moss, the same guys that have supplied cloth to Drake’s.  It’s definitely doesn’t lend itself to being LA friendly, but it’ll be a great alternative to the flannel suits I tend to wear in fall/winter.  The wide wale is perfect which plays with the dark brown to create something that is “formal” yet casual, which is exactly what I want out of any suit I wear. As a result, it’s a great match for black and shell cordovan footwear.

I expect the cord to soften up the more I wear it (as my other pieces have), and so I’m very grateful that the weather is finally dipping down into the high 60s here in LA.

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I was only familiar with Spier’s jacketing, as the navy hopsack in the Neapolitan cut is absolutely perfect: it has soft shoulders, wide lapels, 3-roll-2, and open quarters. My body is pretty much spot on for a 38R, just needing a slight shorten on the sleeves! However, I hadn’t tried the trousers until purchasing this suit.  While they have a single pleat and a high rise/side tab, the legs are probably a bit slimmer than the Wallace & Barnes ones, but not as much as the Magill cords.

I will say the the trousers have a hard time staying up, as the heavy cord prevents me from tightening the side adjusters effectively. I did cop a 33 (since 32 was sold out) and I did take them in slightly to compensate.All together, it acts as a good substitute for a  Drake’s look on a good budget (jacket + trouser was under $500).

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I’m particularly excited that I got the suit, because now I’m motivated to break it apart wear them as separates, something I haven’t done as my wardrobe has increased.  The jacket will definitely be worn with chinos and jeans (similar to the 60’s mustard sack-jack), but now the trousers act as a great replacement for the initial pair of thrifted RL’s early in the blog post! I always need more dark brown odd trousers.

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With grey flannels!

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Just look at that sheen.

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With a brown checked sportcoat, it can’t get anymore “Ethan”.

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Spencer in a vintage 3-roll-2  that is a similar chocolate brown cord.

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Works great with rugged ivy.

Conclusion

I’m not sure why I was so hesitant about wearing corduroy.  Sure it’s remarkably different than the normal cotton twill I was used to wearing, but it’s not something weird. And hell, it makes more sense to wear in California than tweed or even flannel!  Like with most things in menswear, I think I backpedaled hard; I started out getting vintage tweeds that as I grew in my own style I decided to stop buying novelty things.

And yes, corduroy is novel!  It’s usually 100% cotton, but it’s heavier! It has wales that shine in the light, giving it a slight sheen and luster. It’s usually done in some fun colors ranging from chocolate brown and navy or hunter green or burgundy.  In most cases, it’s dandy done in a ivy-trad way. But with those qualities, it also crinkles and seldom holds an ironed crease, getting softer and softer each time you wear it.  In other words, it’s a perfect addition to my wardrobe, and I’m kicking myself for not trying it earlier.

It’s been great revisiting my slow fall into corduroy. Obviously sack jacks and suits in corduroy would be an ivy goal, but there’s nothing wrong with finding new versions of it. The J. Crew ones I’ve gotten have served me well, whether it was the pleated trouser or the 5-pocket cords (which are honestly a great alternative to regular jeans during this season).  The Magill cords provide a Japanese-esque slouch to the the whole thing, but the most “Ethan” thing has to be the brown Spier suit, which I’ve worn plenty of times lately (like to Dapper Day).  It’s definitely a commitment to the ivy-trad look that has hooked me the past three years (especially thanks to Drake’s).

I’m sure that they’re going to characterize my wardrobe this season, as they really are extremely comfortable and a bit less fussy than my normal tweed jackets or flannel odd trousers.  The fact that the cloth takes so well to muted earth tones (shades of brown baby!) makes them much more wearable to me as I continue on this journey.  Hell, you can even see that a lot of my friends have hopped on the bandwagon as well. And like I said, it just makes more sense to wear here in California.  It’s the least stuffy yet slightly novel cotton cloth to wear.

Now don’t bother me, I’ll be in the corner being cozy in corduroy.  Only time will tell if I delve into other variations or at least in different shades…

Always a pleasure,

@EthanMWong

14 comments

  1. David McQuaid · December 23

    Ethan, I love your blog AND your style! As an editor, however, a short grammar note: the possessive of “it” is “its”. “It’s” is a contraction of “it is.” That is all.

    Like

    • Ethan M. Wong · December 23

      Great catch! I can’t believe I didn’t go through it the first time; must have turned my brain off considering how many times I used “it’s” and “its” throughout the entire article!

      Like

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  3. Brad Owen · December 24

    Great article Ethan, as always. I have been a corduroy fan for quite awhile. My current favorite piece is a 4 wale trouser with pleats, cuffs and a high waist. The material is like velvet. I wouldn’t wear it outside, but around the house with an old tweed jacket and Albert slippers, I feel like the lord of the manor.

    Like

  4. Alex · December 26

    Hi Ethan. I am a BLOG reader. I am considering buying this corduroy jacket. My chest size is 42, however my waist size is 39! ( I am 53 years old). I am 5’11” . Should I get size 42 or size 44 ? Thanks in advance.

    Like

    • Ethan M. Wong · January 7

      Hey Alex! Happy New Year. It really just depends on the measurements! Always ask the seller for the measurements on the chest/waist/hips and see how yours match up. Ideally, the jacket’s ACTUAL measurements should be TWO INCHES bigger than your body measurements. For example, a size 38R jacket will have an actual measurement of nearly 40″ at the chest.

      Shoulder measurements are also tough too! so check those out. That’s why bespoke or MTM is such a big thing now!

      Like

  5. shem · January 2

    hi Ethan, can i ask where your socks are from? Are they mid calf or over the calf? Many thanks

    Like

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