Corduroy is the word used to describe a type of fabric that has parallel, lengthwise cords or ridges. The word is derived from the French word for "Cord of the King." Originally made of cotton, the fibers of the fabric are normally twisted as they are woven. When the weaving is finished, the fibers create the long, parallel pattern that has become familiar to us all. Today, corduroy can still be made from cotton or any number of other fabricated fibers including polyester, rayon and acrylic.
This fabric usually has very narrow spaces, known as channels, that run between the cords, baring the base fabric; but the thickness of the cords provides for a generally warm material. Similar to twill, corduroy is a durable cloth, often considered second only to denim. It has long been used for pants and jackets to be worn in cold climates, but its durability also makes it good upholstery for chairs and sofas.
The width of a corduroy cord is commonly called the wale. The wideness of the wale often dictates the capacity in which the material will be used. For instance, fabric with narrow wales is usually softer to the touch, slightly less durable and often used for shirts, jackets or caps. Corduroy with wide wales is commonly found on pants or furniture.
The name brings to mind the term "Corduroy Road." This is a type of road, much like a plank road, but with entire logs used instead of flat planks. Much like the cords in fabric, the logs are placed perpendicular to the direction of the road, usually over a wet, muddy, or swampy landscape. Though the ride is a bumpy one, it is a quick method for making a passable route across otherwise difficult, wet terrain.
The word has also become famous thanks to a children's book by Don Freeman. The book, entitled Corduroy, is about a stuffed bear of the same name, his life on a department store shelf, and the little girl who ultimately buys him and gives him a home. The title character wears a set of green corduroy overalls.
Corduroy is a popular fabric normally associated with casual or outdoor wear. In addition to clothing and upholstery, it can be used for footwear, hats, handbags, luggage, bed coverings and slip covers.