Corduroy, The Cloth of Kings and How We Use It

We don’t have what would be considered a sizeable shirting offering at The Workers Club. We move slowly and curate our product categories bit by bit. When we do add styles into the collection, though, it’s because we think that they’re important pieces to have in a wardrobe. In other words, we introduce them because we feel that they’re must-have essentials and this idea applies to our new long-sleeve camp collar corduroy shirts, of which there are four available in red, olive, navy and cream.

For the second season in a row now, our shirts have been produced in Madras, India, by artisans with generations of know-how. We began a relationship with the workshop because for spring/summer 20 we wanted to create an authentic casual shirt in madras, which is a lightweight cotton with a colourful tartan design. It’s one of the city’s most famous exports and it was adopted by Ivy League students in the fifties and sixties which gave it legendary status in menswear in a way. Madras isn’t a one-cloth-pony city, though, as it also produces an array of different fabrics indcluding this needle corduroy which our camp collar shirts and made from.

Now, corduroy’s history is a long and extensive tale that starts with the Ancient Egyptians, believe it or not. They pioneered the weaving alchemy for it from back in 200AD by engineering the fustian weave method, characterised by a cloth with a raised nap and coarse handle. It’s evolved considerably since then (thankfully), and in the 15th and 16th centuries, it became a hot ticket among European aristocracy. This is succinctly proven via breaking down its name for the translation of the French ‘corde du roi’ is ‘cloth of the Kings’.

In the 20th century, it became much more democratic by becoming a fabric that was very much for the people to such an extent some even coined it as ‘the poor man’s velvet’. It was worn by labourers and soldiers in the first half of the century, and then in the mid-century, it became favoured by tweed-loving Ivy League students. Later on, the sixties’ starlets got hold of it and in the seventies, it entered high fashion by way of Yves Saint Laurent and Ralph Lauren. It then fell out of vogue, but in the last decade or so it’s had a revival and has established itself as a must-have winter fabric.

The beauty of corduroy and why we love it as a whole is that it works for a range of different types of garments. This is because it can be woven with many differentiations, and the corduroy Gods define that via the term ‘wale’. In short, a thick and heavy cord has a wide wale, and a thin and soft cord has a thin wale. Trousers and outerwear for the former; shirts, accessories and detailing for the latter. However, there are some exceptions so take that with a pinch of salt.

Needlecord is almost in a league of its own in cord world, and as the name suggests it’s the thinnest of them all. It’s for this reason why it lends well to making shirts as it’s lighter and therefore more comfortable and it can also be easily tailored. (Imagine a really thick and heavy cord shirt – it would defy nature and science).

Our camp collar shirts are straight-forward and simple. We haven’t over engineered or designed them to be different and they’re made exactly how they should be. There are three pockets – two on the hips and one on the chest – and these have all been reinforced on the inside of the shirt for protection through continuous wear. There’s triple needle stitching throughout the garment and it’s cut with a step back hem, which means that the back of the shirt is longer than the front and should therefore be worn un-tucked. The real beauty of them, though, is that they’ve all been garment-dyed which accelerates the patination corduroy undergoes through wear and time. Along the edges, you’ll notice subtle signs of distress and decolouration which gives these shirts a great deal of charm in our opinion.

Our camp collar shirts are versatile in that you can wear them with just about anything within reason. However, given the ruggedness of corduroy and that camp collar shirts were originally worn for labouring purposes in the tobacco fields of Cuba, they’re best paired with denim of which we have plenty of options. It’s a natural harmony, you could say, however with us being stuck at home because of who know what, they’d go well with a pair of tracksuit bottoms, too.

Needlecord isn’t as warm as a heavy cord for obvious reasons, so if it does get particularly cold you can easily slip a rollneck or a cotton crewneck sweater beneath for some simple layering hacks. The shirts are cut quite full and almost like an overshirt which helps a lot in that department, but we always find that it looks best worn with a simple white T-shirt beneath with a few buttons undone.

Overall, we like to think of these shirts as being our house shirt, a new signature of The Workers Club, and this season’s longsleeve iterations are only the beginning. We’re currently working on something special for spring/summer 21 that we’re excited to share with you in due course.

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