Any ’90s kid can tell you that jeans and jean jackets weren’t just something you wore: they were precise canvases of personality, and patches were the paint. Vest or backpack, sewn or ironed: this was an original ‘like’ icon: a clear, unambiguous marker of taste and affiliation.
To celebrate the brand-new Levi’s® Store Brooklyn now open in Williamsburg on North 4th & Berry — and in honor of the lost art of patch selection — we’ve exhumed 9 patches that we’d absolutely wear on our jean jackets again. In fact, if you bring any of these in to the store along with your new Levi’s® jacket, the Levi’s® tailor shop will sew it on for you. Read on for some nostalgic inspiration.
1. Alt-Rock Iron Ons
Our Fave: Nirvana’s blissed-out Mr. Yuck was everywhere, on everything. And we were OK with it.
With the rise of “alternative” came the rise of a jean jacket layered in alt-rock iron-ons. You’d create a tapestry or unruly collage using patches picked up at shows, festivals, and (if all else failed) that sketchy spot next to the food court. Backpacks, vests, coats: the meltable, instant application allowed you to quickly attach them to anything — except the holes in your jeans. Those were too important to the overall alt-rock aesthetic to ever cover up.
2. Hippie Holdovers
Our Fave: yin yang, alien, peace symbol…
These ’60s holdover patches were the sign of a very specific type of grunge-y, neo-hippie with enough cash to impulse buy them en masse on a beach boardwalk. That’s not to say they don’t retain a certain period cachet or that we didn’t own a bunch of them. We’d just never, ever admit it.
3. Up the Punx
Our Fave: Crass back patches. Because if you’re going political punk, why not go all the way?
While punk bands like Operation Ivy, the Casualties, and the Exploited were largely ’80s entities, their spiky aesthetic was THE secret handshake of early ’90s crust-punk kids. Seeing these at the show meant that you’d just identified a (probably mohawked) politically active punk that wasn’t super into showers.
4. Starter Jacket
Our Fave: Hornets, cause it was on sale one day and mom actually bought it for us.
Second only to Air Jordans and floral prints, the ubiquitous Starter jacket was an absolute ’90s essential. And team affiliation often took a second seat to the overall badassery of the patch on the back of it. Now, we know these weren’t sewn on jean jackets, but time has made the culture fluid enough that we’ve endorsed a little mix and match in our retro recollections. And who’s to say you can’t iron a killer Hornets patch on to your Levi’s® jean jacket now?
5. So-Called Freaks and Geeks
Our Fave: Homemade homages to Daria’s Sick Sad World, because it’s a fake show we’d totally watch.
The broody, angst-ridden actress was such a ’90s staple that we still aren’t over it. Any allusion to Angela Chase, Ray-Ann Graf, Jane Lane, Daria, Lindsay Weir, or any character played by Winona Ryder or Janeane Garofalo was an immediate sign that you were unique, artistic, floral printed, and just a little wild.
Our Fave: Hard to beat that classic bear.
Grateful Dead bears and psychedelic skulls were as prevalent on jean jackets as Phish t-shirts, Ween stickers, and bad drugs were at Woodstock’s eclectic ’94 alt-rock reincarnation. Retro reinvigorated!
7. Skate Rats
Our Fave: Thrasher, ’cause that magazine thrashed.
Vans, Thrasher, Independent, Airwalk: all skate-rat staples. And reading, riding, and wearing a brand was just the start of it. Skate decks were plastered with stickers, while bags, pants, and jean jackets were pasted with enough endorsements to make a Nascar driver blush.
8. Riot Grrls (and their Guys)
Our Fave: Anything Bikini Kill because their music and ethos remain badass, revolutionary, and absolutely original.
While punk had often been a guy’s game, the ’90s was an age of increasing punk egalitarianism, if only because strong women rose up and demanded it. Bikini Kill was the vanguard, Riot Grrl patches abounded, and the tunes, ethos, and iconography remain as badass today as they are institutionally essential.
9. Girl/Boy Scout Badges
Wes Anderson and Moonrise Kingdom didn’t invent semi-ironic Cub Scout couture. Uniform tops were a hallowed item in vintage establishments, a twee allusion to a more innocent age. And, for many millennials who WERE that age, this held their most prominent pile of patches. As Jenny Lewis can attest, anything can be made new again, as long as you still own it.
Now that you’ve got all the patch inspiration you need, head to the new Levi’s® store at North 4th and Berry Streets to stock up on classics like the 501™ jean and trucker jackets, favorites like the 511 for him and 711 for her, and the new women’s denim collection featuring the 721 high rise skinny.