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January 18, 2013

Did You Know?: Senior corduroys

Senior corduroys

This photo from Purdue's Archives and Special Collections shows senior cords worn by Gary J. Glazer from the Class of 1967. (Patrick Whalen/Purdue University photo)
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In 1904, Purdue seniors began a tradition of wearing -- and later elaborately decorating -- yellow corduroy pants, a practice that lasted for more than 60 years.

According to information from Purdue Libraries Archives and Special Collections, in fall 1904 some Purdue seniors noticed a bolt of yellow corduroy fabric displayed in the window of Taylor Steffen Co., a tailor on Main Street in Lafayette.

The seniors decided to have trousers made from the material, and such pants soon became a fashion statement for the rest of the class. The pants became known as "cords" or "whistlers," the latter ostensibly reflecting the distinctive sound corduroy pants make while the wearer walks.

The class, which graduated in 1905, soon adopted the wearing of cords as a custom reserved for seniors. The tradition in later decades evolved to include decorating the cords with lettering and drawings symbolizing the seniors' fraternities, sororities, clubs, majors, home states and other aspects of their lives.

The first images of decorated cords were published in the 1943 Debris yearbook. Those images also depict an aspect of the tradition in which freshman fraternity members would steal seniors' cords and display them in a public place, where the pants' owners would go to retrieve them.

By the late 1950s, seniors were decorating their cords with color paints and inks. Photos of cords from a member of the class of 1967 show decorations that include a red rose and the words "Rose Bowl," referring to the Boilermaker football team's first trip to that bowl, in which Purdue defeated the University of Southern California by a score of 14-13.

Purdue historians are unsure exactly when the tradition of seniors decorating and wearing cords ended, says David Hovde, associate professor of library science. The tradition is believed to have lasted until at least the early 1970s.

For more information about this Purdue tradition, visit http://www.lib.purdue.edu/spcol/traditions/cordsAndPots.html?id=7.

Writer: Amanda Hamon, 49-61325, ahamon@purdue.edu