In praise of the humble elbow patch

Don’t replace it—repair it

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Sport coat with elbow patches

(Elena Braghieri/Getty)

How much is a $400 blazer worth to you?

Let’s assume you’ve owned the blazer for five years. Perhaps it’s worth $400—the cost of a replacement. Perhaps it’s north of that—say, $600—because it was the last thing your granny gave you before kicking the bucket. Or take a market approach, a.k.a. eBay, and call it an even hundred.

The exercise may seem silly, but snag that blazer on a nail, or wear through the elbows, and you’ll be forced to answer: Is your $400 blazer worth the $150 repair, or should you just replace it? It’s a tragic reality of this H&M era that from a rational, economic perspective, replacing a garment often makes more sense than repairing it.

But that view overlooks two things: first, that preserving an item of clothing, rather than purchasing a new one, is simply better for the world; and second, that repairing a garment imbues it with a quality that lies at the heart of great style: sprezzatura, that Italian word to describe the indescribable charm of imperfection.

This concept is not lost on stylish one-percenters from Nantucket to Nice, who wear frayed Ralph Lauren button-downs and shredded-and-patched Brioni jackets, but who would never purchase anything “distressed.” Prince Charles caused a minor stir this winter when he wore a crudely repaired suit on several occasions. Granted, his highness shops at Anderson & Sheppard of Savile Row, where bespoke suits run north of $6,000, but a more frivolous prince might have discarded the jacket.

It’s worth noting that when it comes to repairing $6,000 suits, a seamless fix is possible, with the help of an excellent reweaver. (I know none in Canada; Zotta and the French American Reweaving Co., both in New York, accept garments by mail.) These craftsmen perform sartorial miracles, grafting non-essential threads, poached from linings and hems, to close holes and tears.

I recently reinvested in my own wardrobe, sewing suede patches onto a pair of J. Crew sweaters that had worn at the elbows. Twice, I spent $35 to salvage a sweater I could have replaced for $100. Was it worthwhile? Certainly. I loved both sweaters when they were common; I love them more now that they are unique. They’ve also earned me a few compliments.

Had I wished to attract even more attention, Hook + Albert sells a variety of floral, striped and plaid patches. “A blue sweater is a blue sweater,” says Adam Schoenberg, Hook + Albert’s co-founder. “A patch allows a staple piece to develop an identity of its own.”

To determine the true value of our clothes, traditional economic theories fail us. A fine suit, leather bag or a pair of jeans are excellent investments, not because they appreciate in dollar value, but because they wear in beautifully, giving you the air of a man who is exacting but not fussy—an interesting man who has lived an eventful life. You can’t put a price on that.

2 comments on “In praise of the humble elbow patch

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