Parallel lines: Corduroy makes a comeback

Corduroy has shaken off its fusty, fogey image, says Lee Holmes. Wear it on jackets, shirts, shoes and ties – just make sure it's smart, not scruffy.

Nothing marks the arrival of autumn like the re-emergence of corduroy.

But the heritage of this much- loved fabric is somewhat shrouded in mystery, the most romantic tall tale being that it derives from the French corde du roi, for "cloth of the king". With its velvety, rich texture, it's easy to understand why, but this is more than likely a marketing gimmick, and its origins are probably more homely.

Initially conceived as a durable material, research suggests it probably derives from the cotton mills and industrial towns of northern England – an area populated by sticklers for a fabric that's going to "wear" well. And wear well it has, evolving froma lowly workwear staple to a high-end

catwalk stalwart. This winter, Gucci showed skinny cord jeans in its collection, while British label Margaret Howell gave us the perfect corduroy jacket and trousers.

It's not surprising that designers – and high street labels too – are focussing on this well-loved fabric, as it's a great alternative to the denim that has saturated the market over the past few years. Corduroy appears almost fresh by comparison. In style and general shape, though, it remains essentially an untouched classic.

So how can you incorporate corduroy into your wardrobe? First and foremost, dispel any images you have of fusty professors – Robin Williams's character John Keating in Dead Poets Society just won't cut it – as it's no longer the preserve of stuffy sartorial academia. That done, invest in a pair of cord jeans. Genetic Denim and Oliver Spencer both offer pairs of a slimmer cut, which help to give a longer and leaner silhouette.

Next up, invest in a corduroy blazer, slightly cropped at the waist and narrower in the back to give a fitted feel. Elbow patches are optional, but team with skinny chinos, a white shirt and a perhaps a contrasting-coloured corduroy tie for that all-important preppy look. When it comes to corduroy shirts, always opt for needlecord – Topman have done a great version. Be wary of elephant cord though. It can look bulky on shirts – nobody actually wants to look elephantine.

Finally, don't forget to add a splash of colour. Menswear label Hentsch Man has an array of coloured cord, and founder Alexia Hentsch understands why it's so popular.

Already singing its praises as a durable and perfect material for the winter months ahead, she wasn't at all surprised whenthe pistachio and red colours flew off the shelves, because, as she rightly says, "Our customers tend to be the ones who are inclined to push it that bit more." So there you have it – Carpe diem.