Winter Cords Mega-Test: M&S v Charles Tyrwhitt v Savile Row Co v Polo Ralph Lauren

Winter ‘tis the season for cords; they keep us warm, add some needed colour and texture to an ensemble, and have the capacity to dress down or dress up blazer depending on how they are worn.  These are some of the reasons that I have been gradually building up my cords collection. Great cords can cost as much as £100 per pair. They can also be found for as little as under a tenner. But who makes the best cords? Chester-by-Chester-Barrie-Plaid-sportscoat-tattersall-vest-red-pants-400x600 When looking for a pair of cords I naturally turn to some of my favourite outfitters. So here we compare cords from 4 outfitters: M&S, Savile Row Co, Charles Tyrwhitt & Polo Ralph Lauren. M&S are often my first port of call for cords because they have a great selection in an increasingly wide range of types and colours.  In their winter sale cords are available from as low as £15. Savile Row Co and Charles Tyrwhitt have met previously on these pages as 5YP compared their summer chinos. Unsurprisingly, as similar companies they also offer competing chino ranges.  SRC’s range begin form £23.95 whilst CT’s range begin at £39.95. The wild card is Polo Ralph Lauren. Not on my list of favourite outfitters.  And PRL cords typically on sale at a much higher cost than the other three retailers. However, via the magic of T K Maxx we can include PRL in our megatest.

Cost.

In the M&S Winter Sale cords are available from £15 discounted from £37.50.  However most are available at around £35– £45 range. Both Tyrwhitt and Savile Row Co cords have a list price far in excess of the typical selling price. Realistically they are routinely available for far less.

Polo Ralph Lauren Cords,  Navy
Polo Ralph Lauren Cords, Navy

SRC’s have a list price of £80 but are typically available from £34.95 and  one or two discounted to £23.95. CT’s cords have a list price of £100 but are usually in sale for £49.95.  They are currently further discounted to £34.95 as part of the post Christmas sales but many have sold out already. PRL’s cords routinely retail for about £100. If bought via T K Maxx they can be found for £39.99.

Fit.

Elsewhere I have written about the fit of M&S trousers.  Their longest trousers have an inside leg of 33inches, which is a smidgen too short for me on most of their trousers.  However, for some reason their Blue Harbour range of cords are slightly longer than the 33inch inside leg would suggest and fit fabulously.  As a consequence these are my favourite M&S cords.  All their others run a little short. So if you are long of leg M&S will be a problem for you unless you are also wide of girth in which their Big and tall range might just work.

SRC, CT and PRL all offer their trousers with a 34 inch inside leg, and in each case this runs a little long, which for me is perfect.  However this is where they begin to diverge. The SRC measurements are a little more generous. So SRC’s 34/34 trousers (34” waist and 34” inside leg) fit me just about exactly the way I like trousers to fit. CT and PRL are less generous.  Frankly I need a 36/34 from CT if it is going to fit well and I can just about get away with a 34/34 from PRL.

M&S is more like CT in the waist.  A 36/33 is a better fit than 34/33. One thing to bear in mind is that because cords are made of thicker material than, say chinos, they may fit a little more closely. In a later post I’ll say more about Trouser Fitting.

Salmon Cords, Charles Tyrwhitt
Salmon Cords, Charles Tyrwhitt

Colours and appearance.

This is a subjective area but an important one.  There are some cords which look wonderfully expensive and others which look shabby and it is difficult to articulate exactly why that is.  But you know it when you see it. All of these manufacturers produce cords that look exquisitely well tailored from good quality material.

Perhaps befitting its higher price point  the PRL cords look the best tailored with wonderfully rich hues. Next up Tyrwhitt & M&S are pretty evenly matched. Interestingly I compared M&S Blue Harbour cords in Raspberry which appeared almost identical to Tyrwhitt cords in salmon.

At one point I thought they might even be made from the same fabric. They are not.  The corduroy wale of the respective fabrics fabric is a different size, but they could have been dyed in the same processes, such is the similarity of hue, despite the disparity of description. Despite the list price differential they appear evenly matched in appearance

For sheer variety of colour M&S gets the nod, offering no fewer than 9 different colours for this particular example of cords.  In addition to these there are at least another 7 to 8 cords collections in the M&S armoury.

SRC bring up the rear.  Not that their cords do not have great colours or appearance but simply that they were not quite up there with the best of this particular bunch.  The impression of quality seemed interestingly susceptible to colour choice.  SRC cords in Navy offered a far better impression of colour and quality than their Charcoal or Claret Red.  Why that should be so is not clear to me.  It simply is.

M&S Cords
M&S Cords

Pockets

Bit of a bug bear this one.  Like most men, I love pockets.  I can stuff them full of stuff form mobile phones to wallets, to business cards to tissue on sniffly winter days. I like my trousers to come with lots of pockets, nice and deep, with the front pockets subtly slanted for easy access.

Each of these cords comes with lots of pockets.  Not all of them equal.

SRC is best for fit but worst for pockets.  Their pockets are nicely slanted for ease of access but are comically shallow. SRC pockets appear to have been made with insufficient fabric. I am almost tempted to conclude that the tailor was running short of pocket fabric.  However I tried on 3 examples in different sizes and in each case I could barely get my hands into the pockets up to the wrist.  Not good enough.  The model in the pic below seems to have had a similar difficulty with the SRC pockets.

Savile Row Cords, Claret Red
Savile Row Cords, Claret Red

CT’s pockets are a great combination of ease of access and depth. A similar situation pertains to M&S.  However, given that the CT is a closer fit than M&S the latter are more comfortable to wear with your hands or other items in your pockets.

PRL are a mixed bag. First, the bad news. the PRL pockets are not slanted for easy access. Disappointing. Instead the pocket entrance is vertical, overlapping with the side seam. Whilst this makes for a neater look as the entrance to the pockets becomes less visible, putting one’s hands into one’s pockets then is not as natural a movement as with the other three cords. It requires a little more effort.

However, once inserted that is the end of the bad news. The good news is that once you get your hands into the PRL pockets you discover they are almost too deep. I love them!  I can get my hands into my pockets halfway up my forearm.  Fabulous!  When I put my hands into the PRL pockets they almost reach to the natural point to which my hands fall. The result is a wonderfully comfortable fit. In addition, PRL is the only one of the 4 to feature a tabbed coin pocket at the front of the trousers.  It is functional too, though I can’t imagine it would get much use.  It looks good to these eyes though.

Perceived Quality.

The perceived quality of cords from these 4 companies is high.  They are well tailored and well presented. They all claim to be made from 100% cotton, though only SRC offers any information on the wale count (12 wale). The stitching is high quality with company branding in the waistband, and a penchant for country check waistbands.  Why?  I have no idea. Polo Ralph Lauren, excepted, the others opted for country check inner linings.

As with its chinos, CT claims that its buttons are corozzo nut, engraved with the CT branding. PRC similarly has POLO RALPH LAUREN engraved on its buttons, whilst SRC counters with buttons made of durable plastic which mimics but is claimed to be more durable than mother of pearl. The words SAVILE ROW COMPANY are printed rather than engraved on each button.

M&S opts out of this button branding altogether, perhaps in keeping with its lower price point. There is little argument that PRL appears to win the perceived quality race with ease. There is something about the tailoring, the three point fastenings, the lustre of the colour and the quality of the fabric that effortlessly implies good breedding and fine quality. It’s a thoroughbred.

Polo Golf Cords, Heather Blue
Polo Golf Cords, Heather Blue

Conclusions

This is a case of horses for courses. The most comfortable and best value cords were from M&S. The most luxurious, with the most cavernous pockets, are from Polo Ralph Lauren. Whereas I concluded that SRC chinos were better than CT here the position is reversed with one exception; SRC provided exceptional fit, far better for my needs than any of the other three. Apart from the comically shallow pockets, that is.

The reality is that none of the cords tested here are poor or disappointing.  Be assured there are some examples of cords from outfitters which shall not be named here which are very disappointing indeed. Perhaps the best way of coming up with a winner is to say that of the models tested, those from Charles Tyrwhitt and Savile Row Company will be returned for a refund. The M&S and PRL models, in contrast, will be among the first additions to my cords collection for 2014.

MODELS TESTED
M&S Blue Harbour Pure Cotton Corduroy Trousers, Rasberry & Charcoal. £15 & £37.50
Charles Tyrwhitt 100% cotton Corduroy Trousers, Salmon. £49.95 (sold out).
Savile Row Company 100% cotton 12 wale Corduroy Trousers, Navy, Charcoal & Claret Red. £34.95, £34.95 & £23.95
Polo Ralph Lauren Suffield Corduroy Trousers, Navy. £100.  (£40 form T K Maxx)
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