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Bedford cord is a specific variety of durable, woven fabric. It is similar to corduroy in that the weave has raised ridges running in a lengthwise direction. The fibers that make up the material typically are wool or worsted, but the cloth also is sometimes made of cotton, rayon or silk. The ridges occasionally are made more pronounced with stuffing.
Sources disagree about whether Bedford cord was first named for the town of Bedford, England, or for New Bedford, Massachusetts. Bedford which has been in the cotton textile industry since 1846, and New Bedford also has a textile history that dates to the 19th century. Both cities have produced corded fabrics known as Bedford cord, and both claim the name as their own.
The ridges in the material and other corded fabrics are called cords or wale, and the size or thickness of the ridge is measured in wale numbers. Higher wale numbers indicate the thinnest cords, and lower wale numbers signify a broader cord width. Particularly broad cording is usually referred to as wide wale.
It is a particularly durable fabric, so Bedford cord's use in the fashion industry predominantly is in the construction of outerwear, winter trousers or garments that do not require a fabric with draping ability. Blazers, heavy jackets, coats and suits are typical uses of this somewhat inflexible cloth, and trousers of this material are ubiquitous enough that the slacks themselves often are referred to as Bedford cords. The material is also used in the construction of jodhpurs or riding breeches and can be used to upholster furniture that requires a hard-wearing cloth surface.
Bedford cord can be woven from pure wool, cotton pique, silk, rayon or blends of fiber. Its name sometimes is used interchangeably with other corded fabrics, such as corduroy, Manchester cloth or corded velveteen, though there are slight variations between the various corded fabrics that are of little consequence to those outside the textile industry. In terms of clothing and fashion, the term "cord" generally is specific enough to be understood.