Patina vs. Destruction: Know the Difference

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If you've spent any time at all on style forums, you've most likely heard someone exclaiming that they can’t wait to “destroy” or “beat the shit out of” a certain item. They're usually referring to things that get better with age – leather shoes, a canvas bag, or raw denim, for example.

Their plans for this destruction include methods like using sandpaper to achieve fades on a pair jeans, taking a pair $500 Alden Indie boots for a strenuous hike, purposely leaving clothes in the backyard to become sun-faded, etc.

What they're after is a well-worn, loved look, but expediting the aging process often results in making the item at hand appear neglected and sloppy.

Instead, the focus should be placed on using the item as often as possible, for its intended purpose, and caring for it to increase its life span. This is the correct way to achieve a rich patina.

The formula is simple. Use + Maintenance + Time = Patina.

Why do we like apparel with a little wear?

Our brains tend to gather information to make certain quick assumptions about the world around us, saving us from wasting time on all that pesky, intensive thinking. So when we see a pair of obviously broken-in, but well cared for shoes for example, a few conclusions are drawn.

The person wearing those shoes really loves them. Why?

Well, they must be really comfortable or else he wouldn’t have worn them often enough to bring about their current state.

They must be of high quality (and probably expensive) or else they would've fallen apart by now.

If any repairs have been made, you know they’re good, otherwise the owner would've just tossed them in favor of a new pair, as is par for the course in our throw-away society.

The polished toe shows that the owner still takes pride in his old possession and the fact that the item is still in rotation shows that its design is timeless.

All of these assumptions are made without any effort on our part, leaving us with a sense of admiration towards that certain item.

On the other hand, when we see brand new items, we don't know or can't make the same conclusions.

Maybe they’re junk and won’t last through the season. Maybe it was an impulse buy and the owner is unsure about the style or function. Whatever the reason, the item hasn't earned its spot as a wardrobe staple.

So we don't have the same reaction to new clothes.

And then there are the new items that have been obviously manhandled and abused in an attempt to emulate the effect of long-term love and use.

Can you fake patina?

Intentionally destroyed clothes versus those with well-earned patina can be viewed liked a sun tan. A real tan represents a life of fun and leisure, instantly recognizable, desirable, and unmistakable.

While a streaky, orange tan from a bottle punches you in the face at first sight and screams “I'm trying extremely hard and failing miserably!”

So do yourself a favor, stick to the formula (Use + Maintenance + Time = Patina) and enjoy the journey. Any attempt to manipulate a variable is sure to lead you to fake tan territory.  Steer clear, my friends.

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  • Reply
    May 18, 2015 at 10:06 pm

    About the fake patina, Alot of people are unable to get the kind of clothes that will allow them to age gracefully. That is probably one of the MANY reasons that they want to rush it. Teach them Nate, timeless style is built over a lifetime not a year. (You will probably go broke trying to do that anyways.


    • Reply
      May 19, 2015 at 1:49 am

      You said it!

      A properly selected wardrobe isn’t something that has to be replaced every season. I have jeans, sweaters, dress shoes, and boots that are going on 4 or 5 years and look as good if not better than new. The fake stuff is expensive to keep up with and looks cheap.

      That sounds like buying high and selling low to me, haha.

  • Reply
    The Original Boat Shoe: Sperry Top-Sider
    June 1, 2015 at 3:24 am

    […] Boat shoes are highly functional, casual wardrobe items and look best when care is approached from a non-fussy angle. In other words, they look better with a little patina. […]

  • Reply
    July 3, 2015 at 8:53 pm

    “Patina” -Never heard of the term but I like it! Timeless style makes a lot more sense to me than “YOLO” style. You know the type, people who wear hats with the tags still on them. Timeless style doesn’t come from just spending a lot of money and certainly not following trends; it comes from just a few carefully selected items that you care for.

    Your really opening my eyes, Nate. I’m in the middle of giving away about 60% of my wardrobe that I never actually wear. I’m going to build a simple rotation of quality clothing instead of a mountain of “whatever.” Good stuff.

  • Reply
    March 25, 2016 at 2:00 am

    Hi Nate, ive listened to a podcast from Victor Pride and Chris GLL and they say that most gym goers dont dress very well and damn i agree with that ,do you have in mind a style guide for the gym? i know its all about blood and guts, but style can be added too.
    That would be awesome, thanks Nate

    • Reply
      March 25, 2016 at 5:14 am

      I sure do, Fabrizio. I was planning on ordering some new clothes soon and will get the necessary photos when I do.

  • Reply
    April 7, 2016 at 4:38 pm

    Hey there on the other side of the ocean,
    it may seem a little uncommon a woman is reading (and commenting) your blog, but I do enjoy them very much, as I appreciate men’s fashion and sometimes like to quote it in my own outfits in my personal, unique way (think Marlene Dietrich or garconne). The second aspect I like to read men’s blogs is the lack of needless information (“blabla”) quite a lot of female style bloggers sometimes gravitate towards. Here, everything’s focused, more efficient and straight-forward, no unnecessary detours. Plus, I like how you navigate in your language, your choice of adjectives is a great pleasure to read.

    So much for introduction and kind words, here’s what I have to say about this topic:
    Thank you for clearing this patina vs. beaten-up look. Personally, I like edgyness, up to a degree of faded colours or destroyed details. I even own (and still wear) a 12 year old bomber jacket, and frequently get asked about where I got it from (the more wear it shows, the more questions I seem to be getting about it). There is a style around distressed clothes, but the important parts here are cut and fabric. One would never regard scruffed oxfords as stylish and well-distressed, as they’re just not meant to. Same with cloth pants (trousers, suit pants), rip them and they’re done. Jeans, on the other hand, can look good when even showing wear and tear, but it depends on how you style them. You can drift off into looking like a hobo when doing it wrong, or elevate the torn pair into the focal point of interest in your outfit. I’m owning a pair of Burberry tights with pre-made holes in it. They look edgy and gothy to me (which quite often is my cup of tea), but even my conservative mother thinks they’re stylish and elevate any dress I wear with these.
    So, as conclusion, there are “fine” items who only can get patina, but never destroyed, to be still wearable. But there are other, more “rough” materials, who can not only get patina but even get away with some wear and tear, but speak a totally different style language then.

    • Reply
      April 8, 2016 at 2:18 pm

      I love this contribution, Vivien! I like your distinction between patina and destruction. I’ve been thinking of ways to expand and evolve this article for a while and you’ve given me a few more ideas. Great to have you here!

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