Updated: Feb 18, 2022
As I slipped my arms through the stiff blue corduroy, I felt different. It was the first time using my new jacket, as it was finally time for contest. Standing in my heels, nylons, skirt, white shirt, and scarf; the outfit was finally completed. My heels clicked on the ground as I walked through the halls at Calamus Wheatland high school. Slowly we made our way to the two ladies at the front to register for Sub District contest. After months of practicing, the team felt confident in our abilities to perform Parliamentary Procedure. Sitting in the hot gym, filled with nervous bodies, we joked and had fun but I couldn’t get comfortable on the wooden bleachers and stiff corduroy. But you aren't supposed to slouch in official dress, so maybe that was the point. Soon, we walked into a small classroom with three lines of desks filled with family and friends. And in the fourth row sat three judges. I tried to convince my shaking voice to be spoken with confidence, I sat up straight in their bright orange chairs, waiting for my chance to debate. We received gold rating in second place and were moving on to districts. I could not believe how proud I was able to be in that blue corduroy jacket. The feeling of joy in blue corduroy jackets has been felt by millions, as it has been apart of the National FFA history for many years.
Just two months after the Sub district contest, the North Scott FFA chapter was on its way to Iowa FFA State Leadership Conference. Squished between two girls in the back of a school van sounds pretty bad, but the loud music and endless supply of candy helped make that squished seat and long car ride worth it. After three and a half long hours, we made it to our hotel. Although getting there late at night the alarm still woke us early Beep! Beep! We all shuffled to find out which phone we had to throw. Slowly, I pulled myself from the bed and into my stiff blue jacket. Wondering, in my early morning wisdom, who the heck even thought of corduroy in the first place. To answer this question, Ernie Smith, Founder of the Tedium newsletter, in her article “The Long and Bumpy History of Corduroy”, that “Corduroy’s roots are in the ancient Egyptian city of Al-Fustat. Located near the Nile river, the city became something of a ground zero of tough woven fabrics around the second century.” Built tough by the ancient Egyptians, corduroy is a perfect fit with FFA. Its members are tough, and inventive. Which is something that became very prominent at State Conference, hundreds of teams in different events from hundreds of different chapters all with the same goal.
The stream of blue jackets turned to a lake at Districts, a sea at State, and finally an ocean at National FFA Convention. In downtown Indianapolis, a time zone away from home, the stores had no idea what was coming. Each day more and more jackets flooded into the ocean of blue on FFA Way. Our first day at the convention was mind blowing, to see an ocean of blue corduroy take over Indianapolis, Indiana, as if some type of zombie outbreak had struck the town. Seeing over sixty-five thousand people dressed just like you makes you wonder why FFA official dress is the way it is--stiff, pristine, and frankly, a little bit uncomfortable. The loud sound of the National FFA Band trumpets, french horns, and many others fill the ears of everyone in the convention hall as the serenade begins. The tradition of the blue corduroy began in 1933 when the first National FFA band was formed from a chapter in Fredericktown, Ohio. Their advisors at the time wanted to create a uniform look for the band, according to FFA Today, a podcast segment posted by National FFA, the group had decided on blue corduroy jackets, white pants, and a yellow tie. At this time, women were not allowed in FFA, so there was no scarf. When viewed by the National organization, it was quickly adopted as the organization's Official Dress later in 1933. Official dress is now worn for any FFA event and is required in contest.
There are many different contests with in the FFA organization. These events are categorized into what is known as Leadership Development Events (LDEs) and Career Development Events (CDEs). In reference to the article, “Leadership Development Events” published by Texas FFA Association LDEs, “focus[es] on creating situations for members to demonstrate their abilities in public speaking, decision making, communication and their knowledge of agriculture and the FFA organization.” The other huge aspect of FFA are CDE events, according to the Texas FFA Association, are “designed to help a member prepare for a career in agriculture by testing and challenging the student's technical, leadership, interpersonal and teamwork skills as well as their knowledge of the subject matter.” During my sophomore year of high school, I joined the Biotechnology team, my first CDE. Biotechnology focuses on the “animal, plant, food, and pharmaceutical industries. The event requires students to identify materials and tools common to the industry, demonstrate knowledge [...] of scientific principles,” according to the University of Nebraska and the Nebraska FFA Association. Countless hours spent in the agriculture room going over content, the intense thought put into the group work to create a new gene of species.
Crowded, the three of us would sit around the computer, researching as much as we could about potatoes and what was necessary to edit them. My brain pulsed from staring and thinking too hard, but you practice like you play, right? For us, this competition felt like a breeze, we were ready for the contest. But for some reason I couldn’t help but feel my hands heating up as it came time for the contest to officially begin. We worked hard for the two hours we had, thinking, writing, thinking some more, and hoping we were doing it right. We ran to the results board what felt like a million times within the hours following the contest. And finally, what felt like an eternity later, results were posted. Fourth place. Although not a win like we were hoping, after some whining about the results, we realized were happy to have gained so much knowledge about a future career. Another time I couldn’t be prouder to be in that blue corduroy jacket.
From the first feeling of a stiff jacket, to the worn edges after years of use, the feeling of the FFA Corduroy jacket never changes. The pride felt by millions after putting on that blue corduroy is what connects all FFA members. Whether from a farming background, being awoken by the crow of a roaster each morning, or those in town awoken by car horns. When in the blue jacket, the only thing separating one member from another is their own FFA chapter name on the back.
“A Brief Story of the Blue Corduroy FFA Jacket.” FFA Today. From Rural Radio SiriusXM Channel 147, 2 July 2016, https://nationalffa.podbean.com/e/a-brief-history-of-the-blue-corduroy-ffa-jacket/
Texas FFA. “Career Development Events.” Texas FFA, www.texasffa.org/cde.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “Ag Biotechnology.” Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication, National FFA, 7 June 2018, alec.unl.edu/agedcde/ag-biotechnology.
Smith, Ernie. “The Long and Bumpy History of Corduroy.” Atlas Obscura, Atlas Obscura, 19 Sept. 2017, www.atlasobscura.com/articles/history-of-corduroy.