A close up view of a textured swatch of corduroy.

Answer: Corduroy

When modern readers think of corduroy, they likely think of workwear and children’s clothing—two areas the fabric has seen heavy application in over the last hundred years. The fabric itself, however, has existed for thousands of years under many names—it was originally known as fustian fabric and it was even produced in ancient Egypt.

The name of the fabric is actually the most trivia-laced thing about it. In the 17th century, French royal servants and other members of the royal staff wore a fine but hard-wearing velveteen fustian (a very fancy and well-made type of corduroy fabric). By the early 18th century, the fabric had made its way to England and was produced quite heavily there.

English textile merchants put a spin on the whole situation by taking the English phrase “the king’s cord” (cloth of the king) and translating it into French in order to give their fabric a sort of Parisian prestige and sell more yards of it. The translation “corde du roi”, the king’s cord, was condensed into “corduroy”. It should be noted that the entire translation was very haphazard and what we know as corduroy (despite having been worn by a king or two through the ages, like Henry the VIII) was never referred to as “corde du roi” in French, but as “velours à côtes” (roughly translated: ribbed velvet).

In yet another twist in the fabric’s history, corduroy production shifted so heavily to England that the fabric was widely known in continental Europe as “Manchester cloth” because such a huge amount of it was produced in Manchester, England.

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