Why I won’t wear corduroy

by Garrison Frost

A few years ago, people started wearing corduroy again. After an absence of what seemed like decades, there the fabric was in magazines, on the racks and on people I encountered during my day.

I shouldn’t have been surprised to see it making a comeback. The material is light and soft, and can be quite warm without being stiff. When combines with well-tailored clothes, the material is quite attractive, offering a retro, outdoorsy appeal.

But nonetheless the return of corduroy forced me to face some realities that I hadn’t considered. You see, I won’t wear corduroy. Not ever no matter what.

No matter how popular corduroy becomes, to me it is the devil’s fabric. Forbidden. Poison. Death itself. L.L. Bean, J. Crew, Land's End, all of you, don't even bother trying with me.

Some years ago, while I was writing a weekly column for The Beach Reporter, a nice woman called to ask why I never wrote about my eight years at American Martyrs School in Manhattan Beach, where I had attended first through eighth grades. How she knew this about me, I still have no idea. Anyway, she seemed to think it would be great for the school if I wrote something nice.

It was true that I hadn’t written anything about my local Catholic school experiences. The reasons were complex, but as I strove to define them, I kept coming back to the corduroy. You see, American Martyrs was where the whole thing with corduroy began.

When I attended American Martyrs in the early 1980s, the school uniform for boys was a light blue or white shirt with dark blue pants. Although blue dress pants were preferred, most of the boys wore the much more durable Levi’s cords.

I did the math. If the average school year consists of about 160 school days, then I probably attended about 1,300 days at American Martyrs during my eight years there. And I wore blue Levi’s cords on each of those days. If you compress it all together, that means that I wore the same pants for the equivalent of three-and-a-half years.

Upon leaving American Martyrs, I wasn’t aware that I had a problem with corduroy. I just didn’t choose to wear it. And because nobody else was wearing it, I didn’t stand out.

When the fabric started coming back in the 1990s, I even considered buying a pair of the thick cool corduroy pants that everybody was wearing. But once the prospect of actually wearing them drew near, some kind of natural defense mechanism kicked in.

It was just impossible. I couldn’t wear corduroy then and I can’t now, and that’s that. I scarred, tainted, ruined for life. Corduroy is lost to me.

Of course, American Martyrs is not to blame. The folks there didn’t invent corduroy. The material itself dates back to 18th Century England when workers discovered that the ribbed cotton fabric was tough yet lightweight. The name derives from the French cord du roi, or king’s cord, although the connection to the king of France is a bit ambiguous.

Nor should the revulsion I feel toward the fabric be at all be interpreted as a statement about dress codes or school uniforms. I sympathize with the need for both, but would only add that adults should never force students to wear clothes to school every day that they might conceivably need to wear later in life. Trust me, they won’t.

I know that because I put in a lifetime of corduroy wearing when I was in grade school, and that was enough for me.

(April 17, 2007)

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