You’ve probably seen them on all sorts of clothing items before including uniforms, faded jeans, novelty clothing, etc. However, you may or may not know that embroidered patches served a legitimate purpose before they were used for added bling on clothing.
How it all Began
The new and fast fashion boom in the world that is producing so many garments is also producing new trends including the one that promotes embroidered patches. Patches are having a bit of a moment in fashion right now and if you’d care to see more of them, here are some options.
From the lowest forms of novelty clothing, to the highest fashion from Alessandro Michele and Gucci,everyone has embraced the embroidered patch. Clothes have donned them in recent seasons in their standout collections, and they have also been put on by people like A$AP Rocky, 2 Chainz, etc.
However, it all began with the US military. In the 19th century, the military began to mass produce official division patches. After that, the rest of the country followed suit and the embroidered patch started being found on all sorts of uniforms like worker’s uniforms, delivery men uniforms, police uniforms etc. The patch had become an everyday item of clothing accessories and it had permeated American culture.
In the beginning, it was considered an icon of working culture, but the embroidered patch found a new home with counter culture movements in the 1950s and 1960s. The rise of biker culture (beatniks) as well as the hippies and the birth of punk rock in the 1980s all took advantage of the embroidered patch to claim an identity. It symbolized their individual identity as well as the fact that they were part of a group that was their own. They had forged their own label going forward.
Not only was the embroidered patch a symbol for the rebellious youth, but it was also a symbol of pride in oneself and identity. You could say that it was a sign that you wore your heart on your sleeve.
The patch would be steadily present on all sorts of clothing that connected with the underground culture for decades, and then make its way in to mainstream fashion as well.
What you may not know however, is that the embroidered patch goes back even further than this. In fact, it goes back to a time when there was no America, no Europe, and no concept of the western world at all.
The first mention of the embroidered patch seems to have been in ancient China in the 3rd Century BC. The patch was only used as a functional tool in order to mend clothing. This was necessary since most people aside from the royal families and nobles were peasants who didn’t have the money to afford new clothes when they were ripped or torn.
However, as time went on, seamstresses stepped up their game and made the patch in to a means for expression. From then on, the patch began to circle the globe and reach far corners where it evolved and differentiated itself from the original designs.
The designs would eventually become more and more intricate and become what we recognize as the modern embroidered patch that is so common on clothing. People would even use patches to hang on their walls and be displayed as symbols of wealth.
All patches were made by hand back then of course, and it was a very slow and painstaking process in order to make them. The first main fabric would be cut in to shape and sealed with heat to prevent any fraying. The design was then stitched on to the cloth with thread. While this seems simple today, it’s very, very complicated and intricate in practice.
The modernization of the embroidery practice came with the industrial revolution. Isaac Grobli, an inventor from Sweden, invented something called a Schiffi embroidery machine and vastly improved the efficiency of the process. The process remains virtually the same till today. Yes, the materials and technology have improved, but the main steps involved have barely changed.
The patch is embraced today as a symbol of personal expression more than even collective expression. Patches can include a flaming skull, a rose, a black seal of doom, a cross, and words from the Bible, or even a slogan that is popular during the times.
They have become even more widespread than before as they are being worn on jeans, jackets, purses, belts, caps, as well as shirts and pants. There is no place that you can’t wear them and feel great. They’ve successfully infiltrated mainstream culture and there is no going back— at least for now.
The mainstream attention, as is in its nature, will never last for the embroidered patch as it doesn’t for any other sort of fashion choice, However, since patches have become incredibly widespread, they will always maintain a sort of nostalgia and function-fashion aesthetic in people’s minds. Whether it’s something that they remember from their childhood or saw someone famous wear, patches are and will always remain part of the zeitgeist.
They reflect a way to play off current cultural themes, say what the wearer is thinking, feeling, and wanting to say to society. It can be a pledge of allegiance to a society or an idea. It may also be a way to bring back nostalgia for a time like many are today. The nostalgia for the 80s and 90s is strong in today’s youth, and so the embroidered patch culture is also coming back.
However, the patches have lost a little bit of their sheen and edge due to the mainstreaming of their culture. Now if you’re wearing patches, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a rebel, just a simple conformer. However, that doesn’t mean that the patch can’t make a comeback or stand for what it did before. It’s the intent as well as the presentation that matters on the whole when it comes to fashion.
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