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Go Way Back

Go Way Back: Elbow Patches

Go Way Back BY bea koch 11/01/2013

Why do we love elbow patches so much? Maybe it has something to do with their smarty-pants history. And for more on that, read on… 


The Origin: The genesis of this one’s not as straightforward some others (see: knuckle rings and hoop earrings). But one thing’s clear: Elbow patches were, in the early 20th century, pragmatic. Long, long before the H&M era, people wore clothing until it got holes in it…and then patched those holes and wore their duds some more. One origin story traces their roots to WWI military sweaters, where the reinforced elbows helped keep soldiers warm.




The Evolution: While the birthplace of elbow patches is shrouded in mystery, there’s no doubt that they earned their cred in the 1920s when college kids used them to prolong the lives of their favorite jackets. This Brooks Brothers ad ran in the 1926 University of Pennsylvania yearbook.





Esquire knew what was up, even in 1938. The men’s mag wrote about the elbow swag showing up on hunting jackets at the “smart Eastern universities.”





And now, for the ladies! This sewing pattern from the fifties shows a coordinating elbow patch-belt-headband combo platter that Betty Draper would approve of.





Hey, seventies prep! This sketch is by Patrick Caulfield for Ritva—the designer called it the “manly sweater” (nope, not beating around the bush) and included notes for leather patches on the shoulders and ‘bows.





Another seventies take: Roger Moore as James Bond, doin’ his part to make the tweed hunting jacket sexy.





Elbow patches are everywhere and on everyone. And the internet is overflowing with DIY versions, like this take via Honestly WTF. HEART.





The Right Now: Thom Browne loves him some retro Ivy style, and he’s been known to give the patch some schmancy updates. Why, hello, alligator leather.




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