On Aug. 29, 2019, the moment I liked Emma Chamberlain’s Instagram photo in which she wears a cropped yellow sweater vest and ripped jeans, I knew trouble was on the horizon. For me, at least. She wore another sweater vest in March 2020, for a Garage Magazine shoot, again on Allure‘s June/July 2020 cover, and again in an Aug. 4 Instagram post. I liked all three, knowing exactly what would happen. By August 2020, I’d double tap the photos of hundreds of influencers swallowed by oversized, sleeveless cable-knits. I’d also purchase no less than seven sweater vests on Depop, declaring the item once reserved for TV’s biggest nerds my new uniform. And honestly, thank God.
Aesthetically, the sweater vest has a rich, divisive history, dipping into an array of fashion cliques that feel worlds away from each other. Perhaps the most recognizable is the tried-and-true Nerd Sweater Vest, often featuring a questionable argyle pattern and a staple for the likes of Family Matters‘ Steve Urkel, Doug‘s titular character, Fresh Prince‘s Carlton, Criminal Minds‘ Spencer Reid, and The Good Place‘s Chidi. Ironically, there was also the Prep Sweater Vest, donned by Darren Criss as Blaine Anderson in Glee and Alicia Silverstone as Cher in Clueless, this version a school uniform accessory boasting a chunky cable-knit or varsity stripes along the hem and neckline. In more recent history, the item is a notable favorite of K-pop sensation V from BTS and, the minute there’s a chill in the air, every other cool, alt girl on TikTok.
Gucci, Dior, Prada, Marc Jacobs, and Alessandra Rich, among other fashion houses, sending models in sweater vests down their fall 2020 runways was the first indication that it was only a matter of time before you and I turned to Depop or fished out a sweater vest from the back of our dads’ closets. Once Bella Hadid somehow made argyle look less "ugh" and more "oooh" and Harry Styles’ Lanvin sweater vest with several fuzzy sheep on it cleared my acne, the damage was done. Sweater vests were back with a vengeance, like an ex with a post-breakup glow-up, dangling their appeal right in front of your face.
The swift renaissance of a long-polarizing item with open arms begs the question: Why did we ever brand the sweater vest as uncool, only to be unearthed for a cheeky costume, in the first place? Ergonomically, the benefits of the sweater vest are plenty. The first is, obviously, warmth. You don’t wear any type of sweater because you’re hot. The second? Versatility. Similar to its more traditional counterpart, the sweater vest pairs with just about any long-sleeve top and virtually any bottoms: jeans, trousers, skirts, leggings, casual, formal — you name it, you can throw a sweater vest on top of it, probably. Some particularly stylish influencers have even styled it sans undershirt, like the Gen Z version of a muscle tee. The possibilities are endless as long as you either DGAF or have a keen eye for mimicking alt TikTokers. Third, there’s longevity in the sweater vest. Unlike a parka or bra top, a sweater vest can stay in regular rotation for all but, maybe, two months out of the year.
More so than any other benefit, however, the sweater vest solves one particular problem few people in fashion want to talk about, the sh*tty tenth circle of hell that Dante forgot: excessive sweating. Like other vests, the sweater vest, layered or on its own, offers warmth, but not too much — nor does it sacrifice warmth for mobility. (Seriously, how many times has wearing a fully-sleeved sweater under a winter coat made you feel like you had to waddle around like penguin?) Maybe I’m alone on this one, but as an Always Hot Person —and not the good kind of hot — I find respite in the sweater vest. Instead of being miserably hot or miserably cold, I can exist in the much-less-miserable middle ground like everyone else.
This ex is one I was wrong about, and our breakup was nothing but a misunderstanding. I promise never to leave it again, lest I forget all the good looks we’ve had and the good looks yet to come. We’re better together.
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