I wonder if I can actually call them senior cords since it’s been more than five years since I’ve gradated from anything!
I remember receiving my first year book. The year was 2001 and I had just finished my first year of grade school. For extra context, I was only there for a portion of a year, as my parents forced me to leave Kindergarten halfway through and jump into proper school. I was incredibly shy and bad with names so that year book was incredibly useful for me; I could finally put names to the faces I saw everyday! But then on the last few days of school I noticed something odd—everyone seemed to be writing names in other people’s year books.
The dumbass in me thought that this was a sort of contest, to see who could copy the most names into the covers of their year book before the year ended. So I went to work, starting with the people in my class. I wasn’t sure if it was a kindhearted teacher or a classmate, but I later learned that other people were suppsoed to sign their name in your yearbook. If people were feeling especially friendly, they’d write a message or an anecdote from the year to make their signature more personal. I was embarassed by this fauxpaux but equally intrigued by this recorded sentimentality. What a sweet EOY tradition!
Subsequent yearbooks were much better; obviously this was due to my expanding friend group. It wasn’t about getting as many signatures as possible but rather to record memories with the people closest to me by a hand-done keepsake. Funny drawings and absurd inside jokes from the year were all contained between the pages of my yearbook. This all culminated during my senior year, where I actually let my best friends take it home and decorate it however they liked. The result was a book that has some sort of marking on every page. I love that damn thing.
It’s a little sad that we don’t have stuff like this as post-grad adults. I know colleges have yearbooks but I think the closeness of high school is lost; I don’t even know half the people in my graduating year. Today, memories are kept as photos or as mentions in instagram captions. If keepsakes are handmade, it’s usually something more “mature” like pottery or a painting (I guess this really only applies if you have artistically inclined friends) or a well thought-out gift, whether its serious or a gag. It’s not that these things are bad at all (I love everything my friends give me), but nothing really captures the fun of a yearbook signature. I wanted to bring that back!
I don’t remember the first time I saw true vintage senior cords. It must have been at some vintage expo (like Inspiration LA or some backyard sale) in the early 2010s. Most of the pants I saw were from the 1960s-1970s and they had tell tale illustrations from those eras adorned on their khaki wales: peace signs, Archie characters, slightly vulgar aphorisms, and various Snoopies. I also saw quite a few Princeton beer jackets which were quite similar in that they were originally plain workwear-ish garments that students would decorate. There’s also a parallel to the multitude of painted jokes and figures found on military jackets. Everyone wants to leave their mark and commemorate their time! And as you could expect, these garments were very expensive. And at that time, no one was wearing them; people mainly purchased to display in their home or store.
Senior cords, beer jackets— both were incredibly cool to me. Clothes that have inside jokes and art from your friends? That seems like a great way to combine my little menswear hobby with my themes of authenticity as well as “art“. Senior cords is basically like wearing “merch” from your friends in the most simple way possible. The only thing I have that comes close was my senior class tee shirt which my classmates did sign. However, that felt more like an obligation at the time and save for one, I’m not in contact with any of those people anymore. Also, the shirt did not have a great design and it doesn’t fit me. I wanted something I could wear that was actually personal (and applicable) to my current context.
I kept my appreciation of senior cords on the back burner for a few years. Obviously I wasn’t going to buy any true vintage ones. I have no connection to whatever school it was from and plus senior cords are seldom in practical wearable condition. They were just fun to see from vintage vendors and the occasional mad lad who actually wore them outside.
It wasn’t until Bode blew up that made reinvigorated my interest them. I’m sure that Emily wasn’t the first brand that replicated them (they aren’t the first ones to do quilted pants either), but it was the first time I saw them come up on the menswear-adjacent radar. It makes sense doesn’t? With the oversaturation of typical collab-focused streetwear/designers and the awareness of fast fashion, the more indie, DIY-at-a-high-quality Americana Bode would be the new hype. And senior cords were right up Bode’s alley. I’m glad that the brand made them in a classic menswear friendly silhouette. The artisan aspect of having each cord be a different illustration was also cool. But all of that wasn’t enough. I wanted something in the vein of the original: accessible clothes with a personal touch from people I knew. If I got my paint splattered chinos the natural way, I wanted to do senior cords in a similar vein.
So I took to eBay and bought a pair of Polo RL khaki cords. They weren’t the flat front, ivy-straight, thin wale cord that I characterize traditional senior cords, but that was okay; these double pleated and wide legged ones were more my style anyway. The next step was buying fabric markers; I just needed something simple for my friends to use and something that wouldn’t wash away too easily if I needed to actually clean the cords. These pants were going to be worn, not for display.
The pants were all signed at my 27th birthday party. It truly was a narcissist’s dream as the entire theme was around me: you were to come dressed in your best interpretation of what you think I dress like and you’d decorate my cords. It felt like I was in high school again, but instead of being obligated to obtain signatures from people I was at school with for 12 years, this was all from my closest friends that I see on are regular basis. I wasn’t graduating anything nor was I completing any important milestone at that time, but hey, I guess that 27th bday was something to remember in and of itself! Granted, I did have additional doodles added after the party by friends who weren’t able to make it.
I think you can how close the relationships are by all of the references featured all over the pants. Illustrations of my camera, my waifu (Dark Magician Girl), and my beloved trivia team name are to name a few of literal pieces of art made by friends. I can always appreciate designer takes on cool pieces of niche vintage, but a personal connection to the illustrations (instead of an interpretation of “period” references) will always make these better. The point was not to have a piece of Americana novelty— the point is to wear something my friends have made. My pair might be more cringe than the originals (I’m glad the penis jokes are fading), but I love them because my friends (and myself) can be cringe.
They’ve only worn them out a few times (they are cords and I still live in Los Angeles) but so far, my senior cords work as a sort of bold colorful trouser meets a simple khaki pant (in cord, not twill). By this I mean that they are loud but the khaki base is still a core piece of any menswear guy’s wardrobe, so they aren’t too big of a leap (unless you don’t like doodles). As you know, I’m not a huge “fun pant guy” outside of typical “odd” choices like military or workwear pants; I don’t even really wear checked odd trousers (which would seem like they would be fun to wear with my solid jackets). But there’s something about these senior cords that speak the most to me, which is why I’ve worn them a lot lately.
Senior Cords obviously work best with ivy-trad pairings like an OCBD and a navy jacket, as it allows the cords to be the eye catching, subversive piece of the outfit. I’d even entertain wearing them with tee shirts in the spring or as a crazy pair of pants to wear with a black tie inspired top. I’ll be sure to add outfits to this blog post as I wear them!
Honestly you guys gotta try this. They’re just so fun! It doesn’t even have to be cords: it can be a pair of khaki chinos or even a chore coat! Inserting memories from your friends directly on clothes you already enjoy just makes everything that much more special. Senior cords are a reminder that menswear is fun and not always practical. Though perhaps if your friends are vulgar, you may have to be careful where you wear them.
IBTW, if you you want to learn more, you can read this RL article about senior cords!
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Hi Ethan, super nice article.
I read it sometime ago, but I think I wish to make my own senior trousers. Was wondering if you could give some additional insight…
I numbered my queries to make answering a tad easier, and for other readers who might be similarily interested.
1: What do you have to consider when it comes to washing the trousers? I can imagine that might be off the table, not something I’m unaccustomed to. I enjoy Rugby, and not washing your Jersey is a tradition.
2: Does it rub off? I reckon the right material and ink would prevent this, but nonetheless, I wonder. I fear that the art would rub off on one’s hands, sleeves, the couch or the like. In your experience does this happen?
3: Proper means of storage? Am I to assume that the trousers are meant to be ideally in a plastic wrap and hung? Similar to ones best suits?
4: Colour scheme recommendations? Yours have quite a bit of artwork on them, some more clear than others. Would you suggest that possibly certain colours are not particularly well suited for a certain coloured fabric?
5: Maintenance advice? What would you suggest is the best way to enjoy the trousers in years to come?
Thanks for the help, and I hope it is not of too (eye-rolling) inconvenience.
Hi Nils! Here are my answers:
1: What do you have to consider when it comes to washing the trousers? I don’t wash my garments a lot, especially if they are not physically dirty. However, I just machine wash and machine dry. this means I just redo the art as needed.
2: Does it rub off? I reckon the right material and ink would prevent this, but nonetheless, I wonder. I fear that the art would rub off on one’s hands, sleeves, the couch or the like. In your experience does this happen? The material does not rub off! we used fabric markers that specifically say this shouldn’t happen.
3: Proper means of storage? Am I to assume that the trousers are meant to be ideally in a plastic wrap and hung? Similar to ones best suits? I actually fold these by hand and put them in a drawer! I don’t hang these as they do not have a crease.
4: Colour scheme recommendations? Yours have quite a bit of artwork on them, some more clear than others. Would you suggest that possibly certain colours are not particularly well suited for a certain coloured fabric? I think the dark colors work best, especially since this is a ribbed fabric. if this was flatter, i think it would be easier to do a variety of colors!
5: Maintenance advice? What would you suggest is the best way to enjoy the trousers in years to come? I think just to wash them sparingly (they aren’t an everyday pant) and to keep fabric markers with you to reapply as needed!