For the second installment of Sweeker (my week long celebration of sweaters) I would like to touch on the subject of the elbow patch. Now a style characteristic of those natives of coffee shops and wearers of ironic glasses—aka hipsters—this style was not always worn out of hipness but out of necessity.
There was a time, believe it or not, when people actually had to do hard labor. And when these people did hard labor, such as working at lumberyards or on railroads, they wore the same thing every day. If you have had any experience what so every with any kind of hands-on work, you will know that it is kind of hard to avoid messing up your clothes. This could mean getting paint splatters everywhere, accidentally covering yourself with flour, burning holes in your jeans, having your sleeve ripped off by a saw, etc. It is why we don’t wear our mom’s cashmere sweaters to art class. Well, if you can imagine transporting back in time and working on the railroad from dawn until dusk in your thick trousers (probably made of denim or wool) and dirty, sweaty button up shirt every single day, you can probably imagine that your clothes are in need of some repair. Which is why patches were invented. It is, well was, much easier to just put a patch over a hole than to go buy a whole new shirt. I say was because now a days so few people know how to sew and due to the accessibility of “fast-fashion”, it is much easier, time efficient, and probably cheaper to just go buy a new pair of jeans or favorite t-shirt—plus it’s a good excuse to go shopping. Because of the way that the body moves, bending at the elbows and knees, fabric tends to be strained the most in the area of these joints. Where the fabric is strained, it is more likely to be worn out and easier to be torn when doing something like kneeling on the ground or carrying big logs to the truck for splitting. That is why patches are most often seen on the elbow or knees, or occasionally on the rear end…
Patches were a symbol of hard work. More than that though, patches meant poverty. It meant that you could not afford new clothes, and thus had to make do with what you had. It wasn’t a fashion statement, it wasn’t something you wanted, it was actually a bit shameful. But as is the case with many utilitarian things, patches, like glasses or overalls, have become a fashion statement rather than a necessity. The real meaning of patches has been forgotten. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. I mean when I was younger wearing glasses was SO embarrassing and ugly, but now that it is “fashionable”, pretty much everyone wears glasses, even if they don’t need them. Same with patches, it used to be embarrassing if you had to go to school with a patched up shirt because your parents couldn’t buy you a new one, but now it is the epitome of stylish. Thank you hipsters! Nevertheless, we must never forget the past, for as my good friend Winston Churchill said:
“ The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see”
So, next time you put on a sweater with lovely suede elbow patches—perhaps in the shapes of hearts—remember the men and women of the past who built our country to what it is today and the patches that were most likely on their clothes.
|I would like to thank this old man for all of his work and for not worrying about having to patch his clothing, |
but for persevering through it all