A Corduroy Conundrum: Worn-Out Wales?

I love wearing cords. They come in great colors for fall and winter, they drape well, and to top it all off they are comfortable. Sounds just about perfect, right? I would have to agree, but lately I have been experiencing a little difficulty preserving the life of my cords which is concerning to say the least.

I was getting ready for work the other day when I noticed a worn out patch of wale on my cords. My immediate reaction was panic as I pictured a swarm of wild moths devouring my closet. Moments later I came to my senses when I remembered that cords are not moth food (they only eat animal fiber).
More Worn Out Cords

After ruling out moths and other cord lusting creatures as the cause of the wear to my cords I took a closer more studious look. After careful examination I came to the conclusion that there were only two patches of worn out cord on the trousers. Each patch is located one on the back of the leg about ¾ the way up the calf. Clearly rubbing is the culprit.
Worn Out CordsNow that I know the cause of the problem I have a new question: Is it my cords or is it cords? My Lands’ End cords that are over two years old look pretty bad (pictured above). My newest pair which only have about 1 year under their belt are showing wear as well. On the flip side, I have a pair of 18 wale cords that are 10 years old that do not have any of this wear. What gives?

Here are the questions that I am left with. Is the problem with my cords quality? Are wide wale cords more susceptible to wearing out than finer wale cords? Do I wear my cords exceptionally hard? Am I expecting too much life out of a pair of wide wale cords?

oxford cloth button down
Jerrod Swanton is a simple man interested in simple, classic, and traditional style.

11 Comments on "A Corduroy Conundrum: Worn-Out Wales?"

  1. Erik says:

    That’s a tough call, but I’d be willing to bet quality is an issue. Some weeks, I rotate trousers every day and other weeks (base on how well I’m managing laundry…) I may wear the same pair of pants all week. It’s shameful.

    To get to the point, I haven’t noticed any abnormal wear on my cords and I’m willing to bet they’re comparable in quality. I have wide wale from Polo, narrow wale from Dockers and LL Bean, and Jeans-style from Daniel Creamieux. The quality on all have been good with no noticeable wear on any (but the length on my Creamieux shrank too short to wear…). Though they’re plauged with similar problems as LE, I do recommend trying the LL Bean dress and country cords. I think LE is past a point of consistent quality and unless they change manufacturers, they’re worth dumping. Bean isn’t 20 year quality, but it’s pretty rugged and well-priced and there’s not too much risk involved in trying them.

  2. bluchermoc says:

    I would say this pair is just beginning to get comfortable! Some wear on an article of clothing is a badge of honor. We’d be nowhere without frayed cuffs and collars!

  3. oxford cloth button down says:

    Erik – Thanks for the reply. I am not bad at rotating. I may wear them once a week for 3-4 months of the year. I was leaning towards quality, but wanted to see if this is a fairly common occurrence.

    I actually just tried a pair of the Been country cords. I loved the deep green color, but the fit was comical. A size 30 was enormous. I was disappointed in the fit, but impressed with the cords.

    Bluchermoc – Point taken. I do like frayed cuffs and collars. Perhaps I will learn to see the beauty in this pattern of wear as well.

  4. Fading Fast says:

    I’d lean to it mainly being a quality issue. As a fan of cords myself, the better ones – Orvis, Polo, Peterman (they buy theirs from an Italian mill and they are really well made) – have taken much longer to develop wear spots than my much-less-expensive J.Crew ones.

    Also, the better bands drape nicer and just look more substantial in general. That said, I am not against some wear and “gentile shabbiness” to my cords as they are, inherently, casual pants (I just alter when I wear the worn ones, i.e., they don’t go to nicer restaurants, etc.).

  5. Halby says:

    I agree with the above. Though I bought my J.Crew, narrow wale cords used, in the two years I’ve owned them they’ve developed noticeable worn patches around the knee and upper thigh (I have a low desk at work so my legs regularly rub against it.) I bought a pair of Brooks wide wale cords last year and they’ve held up nicely without any patches developing with the same amount of wear as the J.Crew ones (once a week wear on average from October-April.)

  6. Michael says:

    Have you tried Moleskin trousers? Hard wearing, warm, machine washable and more understated than cords.They can pass as heavy chinos to the untutored eye. I wear them to work in the winter, whereas I couldn’t wear corduroys without comment being passed

  7. NaturalShoulder says:

    I suspect it may be a quality issue. I have a pair of BB cords which are probably 12 years old which are just starting to show worn spots and have been relegated to wear around the house or for running errands.

    If you decide to replace the LE cords, I highly recommend O’Connells. I picked up a pair in the fall and am impressed with both fit and quality.

  8. Charlottesville says:

    For what it’s worth, I have 2 pairs of cords which were made by Berle, and purchased at a small college town men’s shop about a dozen plus years ago, which still look great. O’Connells sounds like a good bet as well, based on Natural Shoulder’s experience. The 7-wale version on their website looks a lot like what I have, although the price seems a bit high. I believe that Berle makes the Charleston Khakis line, and perhaps that offers corduroys, although I do not know what the quality would be.

  9. Joseph says:

    Recently I had the same problem you are experiencing with a pr. of rather expensive tan or beige single pleat Polo wide wale cords. Since I had purchased them only about 5 mo. previously and had carefully laundered them inside out, I felt they should have lasted much longer. I therefore returned them to the Hudson’s Bay co. here in Canada, explained the situation, and they very kindly gave me a full refund. Wide wale cords are very much a favorite of mine to wear with either a tweed jacket or a Shetland wool crew neck sweater and I find that the Polo brand fits me the best. . I therefore ventured forth to an after Christmas sale and luckily managed to snag 2 pr. of plain front, wide wale cords by Polo Ralph Lauren at 1/2 price. I am keeping all tags and the sales receipt in case the same problem crops up again. I have noted that on the inside of the pants there is a label which states that they are made of only the finest of material, unlike my previous pr. the ultimate condition of which may have been passed on to Polo. I will keep you posted.

  10. David says:

    I was tempted with LE cords during their numerous pre-Christmas sales a few weeks back, but ended up buying other things I needed more. They were 100% cotton and wide-wale. I always found that narrow-wale wrinkles too much when used as pants, which is why I stick with wide-wale.

    Back in the 90s I had some Polo Cords (complete with a tag above the right back pocket that said “Polo Cords”) that were made of a great wide wale in navy blue. All cotton, but they never wrinkled. Of course since it was the 90s, they were double-pleated and a generous cut. My waistline outgrew them too quick for the fabric to wear out. They have been my benchmark when I look for cords now. I always scrunch up the fabric when shopping, and only if the wrinkles are minimal do I even proceed with looking for my size.

  11. USMA Grad says:

    Here’s another guess on it being an issue of quality. My cords are mostly 6-wale or wider, and my favorites are from O’Connell’s, The Andover Shop, and J.Peterman (4-wale! Made in Canada). I tend to wait for seasonal sales before purchasing. When the season is cold I wear them on weeknights, and all weekend. I machine-wash them inside out on a cold cycle, and hang them to dry (although I buy a size up and initially wash and dry hot as to shrink them to fit). My oldest two (Brooks Brothers, and Bill’s Khakis) are almost as old as your 18-Wales, and each has a small nick or two, but nothing very noticeable. Like Michael, I am a fan of moleskins, but there’s just something special about the surface interest and the drape (as you mentioned, Jerrod) of wide-wale cords.

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