Wearing your heart on your sleeve

By Brad Hayne @lintmusic

While heavy metal fashion is synonymous with long hair and black leather, arguably the most important and personal weapon in a punk or metalhead’s arsenal is the Battle Vest.

Also known as a Battle Jacket, Cut-Off or Kutte, this piece of clothing is the ultimate form of expression. Often donning a heavy amount of patches or badges that the wearer has collected over their lifetime, it acts as a wearable musical passport, signifying to other punks and metalheads the owner’s experiences, tastes, and personality.

Battle Jackets originated in World War II, when U.S Army Air Force pilots would decorate their bomber jackets with sew-on patches and insignia collected in their travels. This practice continued into the biker-gang subculture, where members would begin to display their colours and allegiances via these jackets, as well as cut off the sleeves for better mobility while riding. A Kutte is still a deeply personal and respected piece of clothing to motorcycle gangs.

Photo by Kootz.

In the 70’s and 80’s, bands like Motorhead were often seen in crude cut-off denim vests, motorcycle paraphernalia or dirty jackets, and the thrash bands of the era also continued this trend. Metalheads favouring blue denim began adding woven patches bought from bands at concerts, while punks often went with a more DIY approach by painting their own logos and slogans, as well as adding spikes and studs.

There are many unwritten rules surrounding Battle Vest culture, the main one being that you should never wash your vest. Certain subcultures of heavy music also impose limitations such as only adorning the vest with patches of bands you have seen live, or that you must sew everything by hand.

But ultimately, the only rule that is strictly adhered to is that the vest must be uniquely yours. The style, colour or statements the vest makes should represent all the things that you are passionate about. Wear it with pride.

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