Corduroy Short Pants and Knickers

Figure 1.--Corduroy shorts in the 1950s and 60s were worn by French boys for play, school, and scouts.


Corduroy is a fabric in which a ribbed effect is produced on one side by trgular "rows" or "cords" of pile similar to the pile on velvet. Corduroy is primarily made from cotton, but it can also be made of wool or more recently synthetic fibers. The basic weave is usually simp;e, either twill or plain, but extra wefts are woven in according to a definite pattern, and later cut to form the pile. Corduroy is the same as velveteen, except the pile does not cover the entire face of the fabric. Both corduroy and velveteen are types of fustian.

The term corduroy is a corruption of the French corde du roi, corde or material of the king. It was a material used as the hunting livery for the King of France's attendants on the Royal hunt.

At one time the ribs were cut by hand, one at a time. They were then brushed to raise the pile. It was in effect a kind of poor man's velvet because its pile is made of cotton rather than more expensive materials like silk or satin.

Corduroy was generally looked down on by fashion writers in the 19th Century. One writer, Sydney Webb, declared that corduroy had been regulated to the use of navies and tramps.

I am not precisely sure when the corduroy fabric crossed the channel or became used for boys' trousers. I am not sure to what extent cord was used for boys shorts and trousers in France. I do know that cord shorts were commonly worn by French boy scouts in the 1950s, although I'm not positive just when the Scouts began wearing cord shorts.

Technical Information

The ribs in corduroy are called wales which evolved from the Anglo Saxon walu meaning to flail with stripes. They vary from the narrow pinwale to the broader wide wale. Corduroy with a fine rib is an almost velvet-like fabric and is used for better clothes as well as draperies and upholstry.

Cotton corduroy is inexpensive, washable, and durable. For this reason it has come to be used in children's clothes and other clothing demanding durability. It was used for soldier's clothes during World War I.

Country Information

Corduroy returned in popularity in the 20th Century, especially as casual dress became more common. The warmth and comfort of corduroy was recognized. Corduroy has proven popular in England, Franjce, the United States, and other countries.


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. 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 for school uniforms.


United States

In the 1920s the fabric was commonly worn in America for boys' knickers. They were generally considered cold-weather pants.

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: November 19, 1998
Last updated: August 27, 1999