I remember the exact moment I first wanted – no, needed – a pair of cords. It was 1994, I was 17 and I was queueing to see Blur play at Alexandra Palace with my friend Jo. Standing a few people in front of me was the coolest guy I had ever seen, dressed in a multi-coloured vintage skiing jacket, a garish knitted tank top, Adidas Superstar trainers and a pair of brown flared cords. He looked great. Suddenly, I knew my sole purpose in life from that moment on would be to find a pair for myself. (That might sound melodramatic, but I didn’t have a mortgage, a job or a dog then, so there wasn’t much else to worry about.)
It’s weird that I became so obsessed with cords – after all, I was born in 1977, a time when almost everything was beige and made of the stuff. Up until that seminal moment in the Blur queue, I hadn’t associated biscuit-coloured, ribbed trousers with sartorial excellence, but rather my parents' beige corner sofa. Or posh blokes heading towards the local sailing club who wore them with a waxed jacket and owned a black labrador called George.
Up until that seminal moment in the Blur queue, I hadn’t associated biscuit-coloured, ribbed trousers with sartorial excellence, but rather my parents' beige corner sofa
But the whole point in the era of style icons like Jarvis Cocker and Damon Albarn was that it wasn’t about being in fashion; brown cord was so wrong it was right and I wanted some for myself.
My first pair of cords were actually Jo’s (the Blur gig friend). She gave them to me after I’d borrowed them one too many times – that’s what friends are for, right? (Also, she still owed me after a Fred Perry polo-shirt incident. She knows what I’m talking about.) They were brown and flared and I loved them, particularly once I had found my own tank top, anorak and Adidas Superstars to wear them with. They didn’t last long, though; being vintage, they were already pretty worn – corduroy’s weakness is that it’s not as durable as denim – and a hole soon appeared in the bum. So my hunt began again, but even at the height of Britpop, cords were pretty hard to come by. Whenever I found a pair in a charity shop, I bought them, sharpish – a bit like a chocolate Starbar; you don’t see them very often, so when you do, you have to bulk buy (a colleague once found seven Starbars stashed in my drawer at work).
I currently have three pairs in my wardrobe and every time I go shopping, I keep an eye out for more. My love affair with corduroy is still going strong, which is handy, because for the first time in 30 years it’s back in fashion. Yep, believe it or not, corduroy, especially jumbo (my favourite), is one of autumn’s biggest trends, having been seen at both Marc Jacobs and Prada. The way to wear it? With a knitted bra top or platform boots according to the catwalk. Or not – alternatively have a look at my suggestions below.
As for where to by them from, try Urban Outfitters. During a shopping trip last week, I noticed the shop was full of the stuff and bought a straight-leg pair in classic beige, which fit very similarly to a gorgeous moss green vintage pair I found in a branch of Save The Children in Wales in 1997, and a loose cocoon-shaped pair in an on-trend shade of pale pink (they are also available in black). Also in store right now, some culottes in rust and a pair of wide-leg crops in baby pink. It’s literally corduroy heaven.
If you’re a fan of top-to-toe corduroy – let’s call it the geography-teacher tuxedo, which, incidentally, is a look of which I am a fan – look no further than the brand new dedicated label The Cords & Co, which opened its first online shop August 24 (and retail space in Soho, London). It stocks fantastic shirts and jackets to match to your trousers in shades of navy and red as well as, naturally, beige. I would advise wearing the same colour if you’re trying multiple corduroy items, so it looks a bit like a smart suit. Alternatively, corduroy looks brilliant when teamed with silk shirts, bold prints and its natural born partner, denim. Needlecord is less in favour at the moment, so the chunkier the fabric, the better – I find jumbo cord also wears and washes better, and has a more comfortable, soft feel.
Here are my three ways to wear it:
The retro cords
Beige or brown corduroy is just asking to be worn in a retro vibe. I usually team mine with Adidas Gazelles or Sambas for the ultimate in Britpop nostalgia. I’m also partial to wearing them with a sparkly jumper and loafers, Gucci-style.
Around 1999, I saw Jarvis Cocker wearing a pair of brown cords that he’d accessorised with a plastic supermarket shopping bag which held, legend has it, cash. While that’s very Vetements, I think I’ll stick to a smart cross-body satchel.
The pink cords
At first, I was surprised that I picked out a pink pair of cords in Urban Outfitters, as I’m not a very girly girl dresser. But then I remembered a very pale purple pair of baggy jumbo cords I found in H&M circa 2001, which I loved, and it all made sense. While I'm sticking with my Urban Outfitters pair, if you’re taller than my diminutive 5ft 3in, you might like Mango's high-waist cords, which would look fab with some block-heel boots.
The smart cords
I don’t know why Levi’s don’t always make cords for women. They certainly don’t have them at the moment (although they do for men), which is a shame as a favourite pair of mine that are no longer with us were a skinny black pair. They were a brilliant smart option for when I wanted to look more put together than I would in jeans, but didn’t want to make too much of an effort. 7 For All Mankind has a similar style (which also come in navy), as does John Lewis. Just add Mary Janes.