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Badges and Patches in Countercultural Fashion

By Museum of Youth Culture

Harrington and Badges (1980s) by Gavin WatsonMuseum of Youth Culture

A badge of identity, personality and solidarity

Throughout counterculture history badges and patches have been used as part of an aesthetic rebellion, a badge of identity, personality and solidarity. A cheap, DIY attachable accessory, youth tribes in the UK have been making small but powerful statements on their shirt collars and jacket backs since the 1950s.

Punks by Gavin WatsonMuseum of Youth Culture

Rocker at the Ace Cafe re-union Croydon London UK 1990's (1990's) by Simon BuckleMuseum of Youth Culture

The Biker Patch

Motorcycles were the symbolic focus for a radically different lifestyle that developed in the USA in the mid-40s and 50s. Bikers came to define one of the first youth subcultures on both sides of the Atlantic, with its followers clustering in tightly knit gangs, such as the Hells Angels. Biker gang members would often proudly embroider the name of the group on the backs of their leather or denim jackets. 

Bikers (1980s) by Peter AndersonMuseum of Youth Culture

Jackets decorated with badges and patches were a powerful symbol of alternative youth. These gangs were outsiders with no interest in becoming insiders.

Biker sitting on his motorbike at a Rock and Blues festival by Garry RawlingsMuseum of Youth Culture

An aesthetic defined by The Wild One, a 1953 film starring Marlon Brando.

A Hells Angel (1980s) by Peter AndersonMuseum of Youth Culture

Rough-and-ready, battered clothes were their preference, kick-starting the aesthetic of rebellion that has become the defining symbol of youth culture.

Marchers (1988) by Peter WalshMuseum of Youth Culture

Peace & Protest

From the 60s onwards youth movements have used badges and patches as a tool for protest and campaigning. In the early 60’s peace pins empowered and united youths including students, hippies and musicians as a symbol of protest. The patch and badge has since been firmly established as a tool for change. 

Photographs from the 59 Club Archive, UK, 1960s-1980s. (1960/1989) by 59 Club ArchiveMuseum of Youth Culture

Enduring Symbols...

One of the most recognisable uses of the badge for protest was the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), a response to the threat of Nuclear war in the UK in the 60s. Cold War tensions saw the movement revived in the 80s.

Neville with 'Bomb the CND' badge (1980s) by Gavin WatsonMuseum of Youth Culture

... and Counter-Symbols

But not everyone was about peace & love - here, a skinhead from High Wycombe wears a subversive 'Bomb the CND' badge.

Protestors - Anti Clause 28 demonstration (1988) by Peter WalshMuseum of Youth Culture

In 1988 thousands of young people marched to protest Section 28, a controversial Conservative legislation that banned the 'promotion' of homosexuality in the UK until it was overturned 2003.

Clairemont Road (1994) by Simon BuckleMuseum of Youth Culture

A protestor occupies the top of a chimney during the No M11 Link Road protest in 1994, resisting to the building of the road through Leyton and Wanstead in East London. Hundreds of anti-road protesters were evicted from a row of Edwardian houses, known as the Wanstonia eviction.

A Statement of Intent

At the peak of the 90s free party and rave movement, Section 63 of the 1994 Criminal Justice Act gave police the power to shut down events with music “characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats”.

An important part of the campaign were non-violence stickers and badges, helping convey their commitment to peaceful protest, which were handed out to those arriving at the protest.

The Subcultural Signifier 

Patches and badges have cemented themselves in counterculture, becoming a symbol of allegiance to certain tribes. Nearly every youth culture movement since the 50s has adopted the use of badges and patches, each with different aesthetics and meanings. 

159.tif, Owen Harvey, From the collection of: Museum of Youth Culture
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Bands such as The Jam and The Who were at the forefront the Mod revival in the late 70s and early 80s. The tribe’s staple Bruta parka jackets were covered with patches from top to bottom.

Two punk girls in leather jackets, Gavin Watson, 1980s, From the collection of: Museum of Youth Culture
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Punk had a massive resurgence in the UK in the 80s with bands such as Charged GBH, The Damned and Exploited. The Punk look dominated the scene, with band pin badges attached to leather jackets alongside chains and studs.

Crass Jacket, Gavin Watson, From the collection of: Museum of Youth Culture
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Punk band Crass were the catalyst for the Anarcho-Punk movement from 1979 to 1984. The movement was defined by strong ideals such as anti-war, animal rights, and vegetarianism. Naturally, political patches, badges and painted jackets were worn to spread these messages.

Two young men standing together with arms over their shoulders, Rebecca Lewis, From the collection of: Museum of Youth Culture
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The Northern Soul movement of the 70s was like stepping back into a decade old time warp, saturated by 60s soul and Motown records and a dance-hall culture.

Man standing outside of trailer front door smiling., Rebecca Lewis, From the collection of: Museum of Youth Culture
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Typical of the Northern Soul scene were embroidered trophy patches of previously attended Northern Soul nights, sewn onto vests and high waisted trousers.

Heavy Metal fans at Monsters of Rock. Donnington, Laurence Watson, 1980s, From the collection of: Museum of Youth Culture
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In the Heavy Metal scene, people customise jackets with patches and logos of their favourite bands, showing their allegiances proud and clear. Some people will build up multiple jackets, filling every inch of space with patches bought at gigs and festivals.

Punks (1980s) by Gavin WatsonMuseum of Youth Culture

A Part of Your Identity

Badges continue to play an important part in subcultural and countercultural movements, enabling people to show their support for music, fashion and protests and marking themselves as part of a tribe. They fit in perfectly with the Do-It-Yourself attitude that underpins many of these movements. 

Credits: Story

Louisa Kimmins is a Museum of Youth Culture volunteer. She works as an arts marketer in London and has a interest in fashion, music and archives.

The Museum of Youth Culture is a new destination dedicated to celebrating 100 years of youth culture history through photographs, ephemera and stories. Launching in 2019, the Online Museum of Youth Culture has been developed by YOUTH CLUB, with support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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