The overwhelming majority of Poodles we see around today are described as curly-coated; if a Poodle's coat is not brushed out, small dense curls will form, much like the Portuguese Water Dog. Remember, in fact, that Poodles were bred as water dogs. More often than not, though, a Poodle's fur is brushed out completely. There is also another type of Poodle coat that is much less commonly seen but which is equally permissible in conformation events; this is the corded coat; the coats of these dogs look like mats made of small ropes. When Poodles were first registered, the corded coat was just as popular as the curly coat; indeed, the first champion Poodle, in 1890, had a corded coat.
There has been a heated debate since Poodle registration began as to whether or not curly coated and corded coated Poodles were the same breed; curly coated Poodle owners campaigned to have different classes and breed standards for conformation events. Indeed, in the first decade of the 1900s, the two were separated into different classes. Most experts today, however, agree that the only difference between a curly Poodle and a corded Poodle is the coat and that any curly coated Poodle can be made into a corded Poodle while any corded Poodle can be made into a curly coated Poodle by brushing out the cords.
To get a corded coat, the Poodle coat must be left to grow out and groomers need to roll and twist the coat into tight coils about the width of a pencil; this process is time consuming as each ringlet had to be individually formed. Some kind of oil or wax was traditionally used to keep each ringlet together. Originally, each ringlet had to reach the ground, covering the legs entirely so that they could not be seen. These coats were VERY problematic. Dogs had to be kept in special boxes, which had iron bars as floors; in this way, urine and feces would not collect on the floor and get into the cords. Even in these cases, the long coils would often get soiled when dogs went to the bathroom, which was a difficult task in and of itself.
Modern corded Poodles more often than not exhibit the classic Poodle Continental Clip; coils are usually not more than 12 inches and don't present the same problems as the excessively long cords seen in the past. So few corded Poodles are seen today, though, because they are quite impossible to keep in the house. The ringlets cannot be brushed and so the dog must be washed to keep him clean; this is yet another time-consuming, often Herculean, task. It also takes an exorbitant amount of time for the coat to dry, and corded Poodles often catch a cold after a bath. Some corded Poodles aren't given baths to avoid the tangling of the coils. Given all these complications to keep the coat clean, corded Poodles almost always smell and are constantly dirty and greasy; they also have a tendency of housing insects. Some modern corded Poodle enthusiasts no longer use oil and employ other products to keep their dogs clean, cutting down on some of the unpleasantness of the coat, but corded coats still remain quite complex to maintain and therefore not too popular.