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Traditional patches meant people could get more wear out of their clothes.

Patches are often brightly coloured and eye-catching. £125,

Nima shell and disc necklace, £29,


THE PATCH From rags to riches

Modern patches add a unique decorative touch to everyday garments

Words by Ellie Boland

The Swinging Sixties was one of Britain’s most defining decades, not least for its impact on fashion. All of a sudden, women

were ditching the formal, ladylike attire of the 1950s in favour of a new, radically different style. Polka dots and poodle skirts gave way to peace signs and colourful patches, the latter of which was reinvented from that moment on. Historically, patches were a symbol of poverty; a silent confession to the world that you could not afford new clothes. In Tudor England, fools and court jesters were also known as patches (Henry VIII himself had a fool named Patch) as they wore the shabbiest clothes – often darned and repaired – for which they were cruelly ridiculed. This stigma continued, instantly ‘giving away’ the state of your finances; that is, until the dawn of ‘shabby chic’ in the mid-sixties, which brought with it a wave of new attitudes towards clothing and self-expression.

How to patch

Position the patch on the inside of your garment, covering the tear, and pin. Starting from the inside, work whip stitch around the edges, ensuring the stitches run perpendicular to the seam, or a running stitch that is paralell with each edge. Trim the patch to size – allowing it to fray without coming loose.


Whilst patching clothes has been widely used as a practical way of prolonging the life of a garment essential during wartime and a key part of the Make Do and Mend movement - embroidered patches undoubtedly became the most popular variation. Originating in 3rd century BC China and gradually making their way across the globe, by the early 19th century the military had begun using embroidered patches on their uniforms to signify rank; a trend which would later be adopted by hippies, who bought second-hand military clothing and embellished them with colourful cloth badges. Hippies became the pioneers of the patch and were largely responsible for subverting its negative image. Whereas before people had patched up their clothing out of necessity, it became fashionable to do so as a cultural or political statement. Youths would display fabrics of varying colours, textures and patterns on a single garment to represent diversity and togetherness – which reflected their message of peace and love. People became walking collages, wearing motifs of all shapes and sizes as emblematic declarations of their beliefs. In a remarkably short space of time, the long-held notion of clothing being conservative and designed to protect a person’s modesty (especially for women) went out of the window - instead, the emphasis shifted to celebrating individuality.


The patch look gained momentum throughout the seventies and eighties and remains a staple of high fashion today, frequently appearing on the runway. Given the insatiable demand for mass-produced garments, both consumers and designers are constantly seeking ways to inject unique 90

touches into their clothing, which has led to the rejuvenation of patches. Nowadays, most modern versions can be ironed onto existing garments in a matter of minutes, so it’s now quicker and easier than ever to tap into current trends and give items a personal twist. And let’s not forget the original purpose of the patch; with clothing prices creeping up all the time, why throw something away if it tears when you could cover it up and make a feature of it?

Embroidered patch denim jackets have remained popular year after year. £65,

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