I saw a green jumper in Debenhams a little while ago which I quite liked and was prepared to buy, until I discovered that it had elbow patches. I have nothing against elbow patches. In fact I have essentially no opinion on them at all. It is the opinions of others that caused me to put the jumper back on the rack. I knew, even without knowing how I knew, that the elbow patch, so seemingly ordinary, is wrapped up in a rich tapestry of cultural connotations. They stand out.
I am 34 now and so should soon be approaching maturity. And what is maturity if not the slow process of ridding yourself of all the affectations acquired in youth? Elbow patches, I think, would count as an affectation. They shouldn’t. They ought to just be a functional feature. Nothing to do with style or aesthetics, no ironic stab at wearing something traditionally associated with stuffiness. Wearing a jumper with elbow patches isn’t something that can be done incidentally. It would have to be a brave stand against fashion norms. Something done deliberately. The juxtaposition of cool with the perennially uncool.
But I’m not the man for this kind of action. Not least because I think fashion is essentially useless. And not useless in the glorious Oscar Wilde sense. Fashion is the process of engineering a means of excluding people, and then, just as they have climbed the fences to get inside, rebuilding them so they are back on the wrong side again. Who has a use for that? Maybe some brave soul could take back the elbow patch, get the Zeitgeist rolling so that next summer everyone can read whatever the next Fifty Shades of Grey turns out to be while wearing lovely jumpers with fine leather patches on the elbows; but it won’t be me. I don’t do standing out very well. I get all embarrassed and don’t know what to say.
My last favourite green jumper wore out at the elbows. That was the reason I stopped wearing it. Elbow patches, if anything, would have been the perfect solution. It is, in a way, the opposite of the socks and sandals conundrum. For a long time I didn’t understand why it was considered so awful to wear socks with sandals. This isn’t to say that I wore, or even wanted to wear, socks with sandals. It’s just that it really seems to enrage people, and I couldn’t work out what the problem was. I asked someone fluent in the language of fashion why socks and sandals were so bad.
‘Everyone knows you can’t wear socks and sandals.’
Can’t. Not shouldn’t.
And when I ask why?
Do they really. Well, I finally got a vaguely sensible answer to the question. A sandal is to keep a foot cool. A sock, to keep it warm. These two items make no sense together. But this is purely a matter of function, not aesthetics. A jumper, surely, is functionally improved by elbow patches.
‘Be prepared,’ my wife tells me, ‘for people taking the piss if you wear a jumper with elbow patches.’ The thing is, I’m not prepared for that. I want two things from the clothes I wear. Comfort and inconspicuousness. I have a strict jumper and jeans policy that affords me both of those things. I was sceptical that elbow patches would cause such hilarity but to prove her point my wife set up a facebook poll to test the waters. The waters, I quickly discovered, were tepid and sarcastic. Elbow patches didn’t foster the same kind of angry dismissal that socks with sandals inspires, they just seem to make people laugh. For a person keen on comfortable anonymity I don’t think I would like to be greeted by ‘awright professor!’ every time I walk into a room.
I am still on the fence about the jumper that I saw. I expect I will now remain on the fence until the shop no longer stocks it, at which point the problem will be resolved in spite of me. Fashions come and fashions go but some things remain the same; a general lack of tolerance for a sensible precaution like an elbow patch seems to be one of them.
Edit 20/01/2013. It is almost as though the fashionistas are out to get me, because since writing this post elbow patches seem to have shed the baggage that has been weighing them down for so long and gained acceptance. They are everywhere. Just disregard everything I wrote, I guess.