Some time around 1997, while I was browsing a Salvation Army thrift store on Valencia Street in San Francisco, I came across a sweater unlike any I had ever seen before. I had a good laugh, kept shopping and left the store without it. That night, I was tormented by the thought of this ugly sweater. Now that I was home, I could not believe someone had dreamed up and actually created such a garment AND that I had foolishly not snapped it up when I had the chance. The next day, I raced back to the store and bought it. The tags sewn inside read:
- M – a relative size, this sweater stretches a lot
- Handmade by l’americaine
- 100% Acrylic, hand wash cold, do not twist or wring, reshape. dry flat. touch up with warm iron on reverse side as necessary. do not dry clean. Rn50148. made in korea.
One night, I showed the sweater to some friends. One friend after another tried it on and we laughed and laughed, then decided to take turns wearing it for photos. At the time, I was working at C2Net, a startup in Oakland, and some of those same friends were also working at C2Net. One day, I brought the sweater to work with a disposable camera. It was a huge hit and I ended up getting photos of nearly everyone in our office wearing the sweater.
At the last minute, I decided to bring the sweater to the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s EFF Rocks the Fillmore 2.0 event in 1998, and took photos of anyone who felt like putting it on. I was surprised by the number of people who were willing to do this.
I started bringing the Clownsweater and disposable 35mm cameras to events, bars and house parties. When a camera became full, I would have the photos processed, scan them at a friend’s house or Kinko’s, format them and upload them to a personal website I kept for sharing my writing and photos. Later, I bought a scanner, and still later, someone gave me a digital camera, which made the process go much faster.
C2Net had an office in the UK. After a few overseas employees had come to visit our Oakland office, one brought the Clownsweater back with him to England, so that other C2Net employees could participate. The sweater returned via FedEx, after a lovely vacation and lots of fried foods.
In 2002 at another EFF Fundraiser at the DNA Lounge in San Francisco, Barney (yes, the purple dinosaur) and Wil Wheaton were pitted against each other in a boxing match.
This was where the Clownsweater and Wil Wheaton were introduced. Though that magical evening was the only time the two of them ever met, neither can deny the deep, enduring connection that persists to this day.
The Clownsweater Project continued to add members to the page, until one fateful day in May of 2004, when I got an email from my webhost telling me I had exceeded my bandwidth/traffic limits. Suddenly, The Clownsweater Project Pages had become too popular. Never expecting such a meteoric rise to fame and the traffic it brought, I hadn’t given much thought to optimizing the images, and I rushed to shut down the website. For those interested in these sorts of things, here’s what the web usage statistics looked like.
So, I decided I didn’t need a personal website after all, and moved the Clownsweater photos to a now defunct site named Fotopic.net, UNTIL NOW…
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How much did you pay for The Clownsweater?
A: The Clownsweater was a bargain at $3.75
Q: Has the clownsweater ever been washed?
A: Yes, a couple of times, but each time the sweater is laundered, it loses a few of the souls it has captured, so I try not to clean it very well or often.
Q: Do you believe in the existence of other clownsweaters or are you The One True Clownsweater?
A: I have no reason to doubt other similar sweaters exist. In fact, I am certain they do. But there is only one sweater that has touched so many hundreds of people, who were then photographed, and this is that sweater.
Q: Is this some kind of a cult?
Q: Is that a cable stitch or a simple hook and loop stitch?
A: I am afraid you’ll have to ask the experts for that one http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Knitters
Q: Does the clown sweater cure any diseases? Cause any?
A: Perversely, The Clownsweater is both the cause of, and the cure for a range social anxiety disorders.
Q: Is the Clownsweater now, or has the Clownsweater ever been a member of the Communist Party of the United States of America?
A: Of the United States of America, no.
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