People tend to make allowances over the holidays. On Thanksgiving one may throw the stringent diet out the window and take on three helpings of mashed potatoes. For St. Patrick's day some may wear a "Kiss me, I'm Irish" shirt knowing full well they're not. Come Halloween another may wear a fuzzy bee costume to the office party and be lauded by coworkers for "creativity." And at Christmas, that special allowance comes in the form of an ugly Christmas sweater.
The trend started out on the torsos of grandparents — mostly — who were blissfully ignorant of their fashion faux pas. But the ugly Christmas sweater has grown into a full-blown phenomena. It's not only become socially acceptable to dress yourself in dizzying patterns, unbecoming sequins and light-up features during the holidays, but celebrated.
Intrigued by this trend, we decided to dig in to provide you with the who, what, when, where and — most important — why the ugly Christmas sweater became cool.
A Jungian archetype in its own right, an elderly grandmother- or grandfather-type in a heinous holiday sweater is built into our psyches. These are the men and women who earnestly rocked an ugly Christmas sweater. It was beautiful in their eyes. But then — it became hip to be square. The past few years have seen the rise of the hipster, who tend to make everything vintage cool again — ironically, of course. Perhaps it was these old-world youngsters, searching through their grandparents' closets to re-appropriate outdated fashion, who unintentionally sparked this holiday trend.
Just as hipster culture became mainstream (in direct contradiction to what hipster-dome intended to be), the ugly Christmas sweater can now be found on every department store’s racks. We still have a fondness, however, for the authentic ugly Christmas sweater — those that were designed to be fashionable but fell out of style.
There have been several stages to the ugly Christmas sweater trend. The first, of course, was the genuinely tacky sweater borrowed from a parent or grandparent or found at a thrift store. The second was the intentionally ugly sweater that many stores began to carry a few years ago, featuring sequined reindeer and blinking snowflakes. Once those began to catch on, designers had to out-ugly themselves, sewing pom poms and fringe to sweaters to make for an ugly 3-D experience. Then came the technological revolution of the ugly Christmas sweater: when manufacturers created those that lit up and played music, putting electronics to work in the most unlikely of places.
Ugly Christmas sweaters have also become huge marketing tools for franchises and celebrities. You can now find sweaters with popular characters like Yoda and Spock, or with phrases from “Home Alone” such as “Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal” or "Game of Throne’s" “Winter is coming.” Celebs like Whoopie Goldberg and Beyonce have also caught on to the trend and produce their own cheerful versions of itchy fabric. Combining popular fandoms with popular clothing during a popular season — it’s bound to be, well, popular.
We’re not the first to write on this trend — in fact we’re late to the party. The diligent research done by the minds behind the “Ugly Christmas Sweater Party Book: The Definitive Guide to Getting Your Ugly On” notes that people started rocking these seasonal tacky sweaters around 2001. But that was just at parties. "Time Magazine" reports that ugly Christmas sweaters entered into the mainstream around 2011, when major retailers like H&M and Nordstrom started mass producing them.
Pretty much every department store currently in business has droves of ugly Christmas sweaters for sale. Target, Boscov’s, Macy’s, Walmart, JC Penney, Marshalls — they’ve all got ‘em. Local boutiques like Hammonton’s GorJess and LoveLee have also embraced the trend, with offerings like the aforementioned “Home Alone” sweater.
While some of you are still thinking about what you want for Christmas, others have moved on…
Along with being on-trend in the fashion world, the ugly Christmas sweater party has become a common social engagement. Earlier this month the Pool After Dark at Harrah’s Resort hosted an ugly Christmas sweater party with Brody Jenner DJing. Ri Ra Irish Pub at The Quarter at Tropicana Atlantic City held a similar party a week later, and tons of eateries around the region have hosted ugly Christmas sweater parties of their own.
This is perhaps the most elusive of questions. Maybe we search for the most ridiculous ugly Christmas sweaters simply because it’s fun to laugh at ourselves. Maybe it’s because, like addicts, we need more and more Christmas in our lives every year, which is now somehow manifested through our sweaters. Maybe it’s nice that we finally have social permission to rock something absolutely horrid. Whatever it may be, we’re — hesitantly — on board.