At some point in my early 20s, I started to really like the idea of owning a corduroy suit. Maybe it’s because I have a love for English aristocracy, or perhaps it’s because I studied English at uni, or maybe I was inspired by the style in Wes Anderson movies. Whatever the cause for the mild obsession I had for all things two-piece and waled, I knew I had to get one. Brand-new or second-hand, a bit frumpy or perfectly tailored – none of that mattered, I just wanted the suit and spent hours online looking for just the right one (or two, or three).
A corduroy suit checks all the boxes of a dress code while still showing off a sense of personal style. It’s a delicate balance of making an effort to look nice and being totally fine if others find your cords a bit shabby. I would venture to call myself a bit bohemian when I wear it, but I got my last corduroy suit at Macy’s with a gift card from my aunt. And there’s a strong case to be made that every guy should look into fitting a corduroy suit into their wardrobe, regardless of where it’s from.
A History of Corduroy
Corduroy’s roots date back to around 200 BCE and an Egyptian town called Fustat. The woven material from this region outside of Cairo was called fustian, which is considered the grandfather of many woven linens. That includes denim, moleskin, velvet, and, you guessed it, corduroy.
A popular fabric in the local area for its ruggedness and durability, merchants traded fustian throughout the southern part of continental Europe by way of trade routes in Rome, by way of Carthage. Here, production began to boom throughout the Italian peninsula and would eventually travel northward to colder regions, such as Germany and Austria, where it was a favored textile due to its ability to stand up to colder temperatures.
Eventually, the fabric would make its way throughout the rest of Western Europe, and the corded variation of fastian would take hold and become the standard corduroy we know today.
The modern corduroy suit comes from the English landed gentry’s country style during the 18th century and beyond. Etiquette required an elevated level of dress at any time of day for the aristocracy, and hacking through fields and shooting pheasants was no different. The corduroy suit was the perfect stopgap between formalwear and workwear: the rugged cloth offered warmth and protection from the elements while being tailored into the sartorial semaphore of good breeding.
Eventually, those properties that make corduroy such a great hunting fabric would find other uses too, including becoming the standard cloth for factory workers during colder months. It would remain a working class fabric for centuries before workplace conditions began to improve and the rugged fabric became more of a hindrance than a help. But the blue-collar roots of the corduroy suit would eventually lead to adoption by the counterculture movement of the 1960s, the free love movement of the 1970s, and the grunge movement of the 1990s, which all rebelled against the cushy white-collar establishment and the sartorial rulebook they represented.
Is A Corduroy Suit Formalwear?
The beauty of a corduroy suit existing in that in-between space between workwear and formalwear is that it’s flexible enough to make it anything you want it to be. It’s a more relaxed version of a traditional suit, but can be dressed up with the pretense of not giving a fuck.
The important thing to note when wearing a corduroy suit is that you’re naturally breaking a dress code somewhere. The best cords are blue and tan, which automatically can put you down a rung on the black-tie ladder. Corduroy suits look great when tailored, but there’s something endearing about one that’s a bit slouchy in the shoulders and pants seat. With a corduroy suit, you’re not going to win the style game, but you’ll feel comfortable and look intentionally nonchalant while doing so.
What to Wear with a Corduroy Suit
Because of the aforementioned nature of the corduroy suit, you’ll want to balance the informality of the suit with a nice dress shirt. I really wouldn’t go with, say, a flannel shirt, but you can get away with sneakers, like the right pair of New Balances, if you’re going for a more casual look all around.
The other beauty of a corduroy suit is you can break up the pieces and wear them with just about anything in your wardrobe during cold weather months. Pair the pants with a nice sweater and you’re ready for date night. Throw the jacket over a polo and get ready for Monday morning. The versatility of its separates makes it an easy staple in your wardrobe so you’re not always scratching your head wondering when you can break out a full-on suit every time you want to feel a little dressy.
The Best Corduroy Suits For Men
All prices are for jackets first, followed by pants.
Buck Mason High Ridge Cord Carry-On Suit
A great affordable option, Buck Mason’s cord suit has a comfortable fit that’s pre-washed for a lived-in feel right off the rack. I personally own this suit and haven’t run out of ways to wear it, making it one of the most versatile options in my wardrobe. I personally like to keep this suit casual, pairing it with an open-collar button-down and a pair of boots to keep it rugged and just a little put-together.
Brunello Cucinelli Light Blue Suit
On the other end of the affordability spectrum is this option from Brunello Cucinelli. A tastemaker of Italian fashion, it’s hard to miss the detail that went into this slim double-breasted jacket. A lighter corduroy color makes this a unique option (as most cords are pretty neutral, given their outdoorsy modern roots), but this spices it up a bit and adds a touch of refinement. It would look great paired with a camel-colored turtleneck for that perfect Slim Aarons style.
Banana Republic Como Corduroy Suit
Lest we forget the 1970s pimp iteration of the corduroy suit, Banana Republic’s wider double-breasted option in a tan hue really encompasses the swagger of the era. With a relaxed fit, you can get away with a chunkier sweater underneath for the holidays (think Chris Evans in Knives Out) or go deep into 70s style with turquoise jewelry and a denim shirt underneath. Any way you style it, you’re doing it right with this one.
Todd Snyder Corduroy Sutton Suit
With a finer wale to the fabric, this corduroy option has a tighter gap between the cords themselves, making it already feel a little more tailored and expensive. You can still dress this down with a sweater or cardigan, but I’d reserve this suit for cocktail parties and New Years, while still making it your own with a pair of Chucks to remind everyone you DGAF about rules.