To The Weft, To The Weft: It's Corduroy Season


This is the time of every year that “This is Just a Modern Rock Song” becomes my favorite Belle and Sebastian song. (Taking over from “Lazy Line Painter Jane” or “The Boy With the Arab Strap,” which rule at other times.) Because now that summer is all-but-technically kaput, and we can finally put the Great Shorts Debate behind us, at least for another seven or eight months, I most often find myself pulling on a pair of corduroy pants in the morning (or, well, in the afternoon or at night, whenever it is that I finally get myself out of the house), an occasion upon which I can’t help but hum the chorus to this great, great, terrific song, which I think is actually more like just the ninth verse, because the song is basically all verse (but I don’t know so much about musical theory), where the words go, “This is just a modern rock song/This is just a sorry lament/We’re four boys in our corduroys/We’re not terrific but we’re competent.” Because that internal “four-boys/corduroys” rhyme is so brilliant. And because I’m putting on corduroys.

According to the historians at the British fabrics company Brisbane Moss, corduroy was developed in the latter half of the 19th century by weavers in the East Lancashire and West Yorkshire districts. It is a “fustian” fabric, which means that it has a higher ratio of “weft” threads—those threads that are woven around and between the “warp” threads that are the ones stretched on the loom. Weft threads can be softer than warp threads, because they don’t have to be as strong, not having to hold up to the stretching.

“In some cases the smooth face of the fabric was interrupted by equally spaced ribs, or races, running the length of the piece, and these could be cut on specialised machines, prior to dyeing, to form ribs of raised pile, characteristic of corduroy as it is now known.”

Those ribs have become known as “wales,” of course, a word that also means the raised welts left on the skin after a whipping. And the number of wales per inch of material varies. The more wales per inch, of course, the thinner each wale. The wale count per inch for corduroy ranges from 1.5 to 21. (Man, 1.5-count wales must look crazy!) Eleven is apparently the standard. (The Levi’s I wore yesterday have 12.) The wide-wale corduroys popular amongst elderly preppies tally something like eight or even six.

Maybach Music Group rapper Wale’s name is pronounced differently, so as to rhyme with the way a person from Boston would pronounce “parlay.”

“Corduroy” is also the name of a famous song by Pearl Jam.

(Who always make for a strong argument in favor of pants in the Great Shorts Debate.)

It is also the name of a bear in a beloved children’s book by Don Freeman. And of one of England’s more popular “acid jazz” bands during that genre’s short, early-’90s heyday.

That song, both surprisingly and not surprisingly, is a cover of a song by Motorhead.

Man, Lemmy is so awesome. More of a leather guy himself, you’d imagine, fabricwise. And given the choice presented by David Sedaris’ advice on dressing one’s family, he’d probably go with denim over corduroy. Which is the only difference, really, when you think about, between him and Stuart Murdoch.