About half of Xoë Sioux’s wardrobe is covered in scraps of fabric, plastered with the names and logos of various bands and bits of art.
“The whole thing about punk is to dress your own way, how you want to look and not fit into society’s views of you, and so a big part of it is like creating your own clothes,” Sioux said.
Wearing patches on their clothes identifies Sioux to other members of their subculture.
“Other punk kids, or metal kids, or anybody in the subgenre- if they see it and they appreciate it, then that makes me happy,” Sioux said.
According to Sioux, the history of decorating clothes with patches dates back to the origin of punk itself in the 70’s and 80’s.
“People were creating patches for all the bands that they liked, like The Clash, Discharge, Sex Pistols unfortunately,” Sioux said. “They started stitching them onto their clothes to create a statement.”
Patches also serve as free advertising for the bands they represent. Nat Cardos, who came up in the southern California punk scene and now plays in several local bands, explains the process.
“You have these punks who buy your patches at your show that you make yourself,” said Cardos. “When they sew them on people will see them, and be like, oh, what’s that band.”
In addition to the aesthetic value they add, patches also help extend the longevity of garments. When the original fabric gives way, a patch can allow one to continue wearing the item of clothing for years to come. Many punks have taken to using more durable dental floss to secure their patches rather than sewing thread.
“I like the look of it, and they stay together way better in my opinion,” Sioux said. “And they make me smell good because I smell like mint.”
Sioux’s favorite patch is from a band called Bathory, her favorite band of all time. The band took inspiration from the Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed of the former Kingdom of Hungary, who was infamously convicted of torturing and killing hundreds of girls and women, in what some say was an effort to retain her youth. The patch, in classic alternative style, depicts a disembodied goat head above the band’s name in gothic script.
For the people that wear them, patch jackets can be a chronicle, the time and place where each patch was attached forever sewn into the fabric. Cardos recalls exactly what their first patch was as it is still on one of their jackets.
“I bought it online, and you’re probably going to have to censor this, but it says: ‘fuck all crooked cops, may their corpses rot,’” Cardos said. “It’s my favorite patch I own.”
Cardos says that patch-making is an integral part of the DIY subculture within punk. In addition to buying patches that bands sell as merch, most also make some of their own patches. There is no set method.
“A lot of people make them using either screen-printing ink and canvas, or a lot of people also will just use sharpie if they have a light enough fabric for it,” said Cardos.
Sioux has some guidelines for others looking to get into wearing patches.
“It’s really fun to dress weirdly, and dress out of the norm, and patches make you look really cool,” Sioux said. “But I definitely highly recommend listening to the music that you’re putting onto your clothes, nobody likes a poser.”