The Anatomy of a Battle Jacket: A Multimodal Ethnographic Perspective

Ohagan, Lauren (2020). The Anatomy of a Battle Jacket: A Multimodal Ethnographic Perspective. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 50(2) pp. 147–175.



The battle jacket—a sleeveless denim jacket customized with band patches—is a staple item of clothing for heavy metal fans. This paper brings together social semiotic analysis and ethnographic insights to explore three different types of battle jacket: the “classic” jacket, the “tribute” jacket, and the “modern” jacket. It discovers that, despite the jacket’s assortment of bold images, colours, typography, and symmetrical arrangements, owners, in fact, consider aesthetics as secondary to the jacket’s function as a “channeler” of memories, relationships, beliefs, and ideologies. For each owner, the jacket serves a unique purpose, whether acting as a biography of their musical life (“classic” jacket), representing social ties and connections with loved ones (“tribute” jacket), or promoting particular political and religious beliefs (“modern” jacket). Through a multimodal ethnographic approach, battle jackets are revealed to be sophisticated and multifaceted artefacts with a range of sociocultural functions embedded in a rich history.

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