Anne T. Donahue is the author of Nobody Cares.
There is a blessed meme in which Courtney Love stands onstage and declares her expletive-laden hatred for summer. Then, after her initial revelation, she says something even more profound: “Put a sweater on!”
I think about this moment constantly, and whisper the line to myself whenever I’m in doubt of how many layers I should wear. Because to choose a sweater is to not only choose warmth, but to choose comfort and coziness. It is to knowingly slip into a portable hug. Arguably, to wear a sweater is the closest many of us will ever come to sleeping atop a pile of freshly bathed sheep, whose wool is fluffy and light and perfectly welcoming. Which is why sweaters have come to symbolize vulnerability and softness. And might even explain why, decades after he first zipped his first cardigan up, we still love Mr. Rogers.
Which sounds like a stretch, I know. To be clear, Mr. Rogers is and always will be more than his sweaters. Over the course of his broadcasting career, he was an advocate for equality, for civil rights, for learning, sharing and creating safe spaces for anybody who watched his TV show. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was one in which all were welcome and none were talked down to, and he used it to build a world that championed love, understanding and creativity.
Famously, before he began each episode, Mr. Rogers slipped out of his suit jacket and into a sweater, as if he were removing the armour he reserved for the outside world. By replacing it with something comfy and cozy, he sent the message that for the 30 minutes we spent with him, we’d be safe and allowed to relax, too. Sweater time signalled a reprieve from the lives we were living. Which is why we need more sweaters than ever.
One of the reasons I love nostalgia so much is because it’s rooted in our best memories. We delve back into the parts of our lives that brought us joy by resurrecting style trends, listening to particular albums or watching movies we’d memorized and quoted ad nauseam to anyone who would listen. Nostalgia, when embraced properly, isn’t a question of burying our heads in the sand as to avoid dealing with real life, it’s bringing along what once meant something and finding the courage to be so vulnerable that you can be sincere or earnest. It’s a necessary part of being a thinking, feeling person. And Mr. Rogers taught us that to think and feel simultaneously was an important thing. Which it is: They’re both key components to empathy, and the only way we’ll ever make it through 2019 and beyond is to keep the empathetic part of ourselves alive.
And of course, that’s a tall order. Now that we’re adults, we’re cynical and we’re damaged and some of us might not even own sweaters at all. But deep down, there’s still the parts of ourselves that counted the minutes until Mr. Rogers would get home, take off his coat and make us feel like we could finally exhale by zipping up some beautifully knit wool. And maybe to head back into that mindset, we need to begin wearing some, too.
I mean, are sweaters going to fix the world? Of course not. But how dare any of us strike down the power of a soft cardigan or the coziness of a high-quality fleece. Because maybe, to take those first steps back into our softer, vulnerable selves, we abandon the armour and put a sweater on, signalling that we can be warm and available and open to conversations about feelings. Maybe more sweaters can and will make us more compassionate. Maybe they’ll make us more empathetic to those who aren’t just us or our friends. Or maybe they’ll be a reminder that once upon a time, we revelled in a show that championed the best of society instead of subjecting us to the worst. And that should we choose, can channel the likes of Mr. Rogers and his sweater-wearing contemporaries to resurrect hope over, well, complete despair.
Either way, I’m here for more sweaters. I’m here to bundle up while simultaneously advertising my affinity for softness and to announce to those who see me that while I may present as a tough cookie, my sweater suggests I will use said toughness for good (not evil). I’m here for us all to be a little warmer, a little more casual, and a little more fluent in all types of cardigan. Which means some of us will be more partial to the vibes of Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood, while others may scream their outerwear suggestions just like Courtney Love.
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