I recently ran a notion past some close friends and relatives, many of whom expressed doubt and concern.
Me: “This winter, I’m going to wear a sweater vest.”
Friend/Relative: “Really? Why? Are you going to be an adjunct professor somewhere? I thought you didn’t like school.”
Me: “I didn’t say anything about teaching. I said I’m going to wear a sweater vest.”
Friend/Relative: “This is not a good idea.”
There’s a bit of snarky wisdom that has made its way around the Internet. “How to wear a sweater vest,” it goes: “Put a sweater vest on your torso by first placing it over your head, popping your head out of the top hole in the garment, then pushing each of your arms in turn through one armhole or the other, then pulling the bottom of the item down toward your waist so that the front lies flat against your upper body, and if it turns out that the tag is not in the back, turn the whole thing around.” And that’s all well and good if you already own a sweater vest. Being that I’m not one of those people for whom owning a sweater vest is a “normal” thing, though, in order to practice for next year I had to make my own, by tearing the sleeves off a regular sweater that I already had.
No one I’ve talked to so far about my wearing a sweater vest in the near future has come right out and told me that I shouldn’t because I’m just not bright enough to pull it off—figuratively but also perhaps literally. Most instead hinted that I don’t have the physique for it, mine being entirely too tastefully muscular, although one person did suggest that if I “insisted on this foolishness,” I should at least avoid a V-neck because it would only “call attention” to my “hatchet face.” Someone else recommended against a sweater vest in any color that would highlight my unnaturally tan complexion. Actually, that might have been the same person, and that person might have been my father.
The other ostensible concern of those in whom I’ve confided is that my wearing a sweater vest might be perceived, by individuals who don’t appreciate my sense of humor, as insensitive. Even in today’s global society, there is still much hand-wringing over so-called cultural appropriation, my friends reminded me. “It’s a culture,” they admonished, “not a costume.” But, really, it’s just an article of clothing. Most of one, anyway.
I’m not stupid; I know why people don’t think I should wear a sweater vest. It’s because they think I’m not smart. They are afraid that if I wear a sweater vest, I might be mistaken for a person of significantly greater intellect, possibly at a gravely inopportune moment. They imagine, perhaps, a construction crew about to complete the erection of a skyscraper... when suddenly the foreman discovers that they don’t have enough drywall screws. “We need an architect!” the foreman cries out, then spots me in the crowd watching the building go up. “You, sir! In the sweater vest! Can you help us?” But I’m no architect (and so the ribbon-cutting ceremony will have to be postponed 24 hours). Nor am I a copy editor who can spring to the aid of a sign painter who needs to know immediately where to put an apostrophe. “I’m sorry. I really have no idea,” I’ll have to confess. “But,” the sign painter will whisper plaintively, paint dripping from his brush held in disillusioned abeyance, “your sweater vest....”
Would it be wrong of me to wear a sweater vest? Would it be inconsiderate? Dangerous? Uncomfortable? If a guy like me wears a sweater vest, will there be adverse consequences? Will others follow my lead? Will what starts with a sweater vest carry over into corduroy slacks? Horn-rimmed glasses? Loafers? How will anyone be able to tell the genuinely smart from those merely impersonating the intelligent, moving forward? I really don’t know. Those aren’t the kinds of questions a guy like me can answer. I’m not interested in starting a full-blown controversy. I just want my chest to be slightly warmer than my arms this winter.
Matthew David Brozik wrote this and many other short humor pieces, which have been published in print and online by The New Yorker, Adult Swim, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Grin & Tonic, The Big Jewel, and no one.