Ugly Christmas sweaters: The bane and the beauty

by Patty Templeton

The weather outside is getting frightful and fashion choices are getting spiteful. Queue the dramatic ringing of tubular bells … because it is UGLY CHRISTMAS SWEATER SEASON. Do you hate them? Do you love them? If you hear the herald angels calling, you may stop reading long enough to put on your most stylish of seasonal sweaters. We will wait for your return.

You good? Decked out in red, green, and gold? Throw a bit of tinsel in your hair while you’re at it, you won’t be alone. The entire full-time DGO staff – ahem – all two of us, are likewise garbed in gaudy glory for this dissection of a new-ish holiday tradition.

What are ugly Christmas sweaters? An ugly Christmas sweater is a vile piece of knitwear that demonstrates a genial spirit for the flood of festivities that happen in late November and December. They are likely to showcase Christmas colors, grinning snowmen, chipper gingerbread people, pine trees, reindeer, Saint Nick, and snowflakes. Usually, these images will be appliqued, and sometimes, they will be surrounded by glitter glue, garland, crazy quilt patches, or jingle bells.

Where did they come from?Blame it on the ’80s. We aren’t saying Reagan created the eyesore that is the holiday sweater, but holiday sweaters did multiply under his reign almost as quickly as the racist “war on drugs.” The 1980s found peak mall spending by young and old alike, and as such, a legion of evil, capitalist elves produced a glut of holiday sweaters. These sweaters were adored. They were in vogue. They were tip-top merrymaking.

Until America got sick of them. Sweaters were delivered to dumpsters en masse, or if the wee things were lucky, they went to thrift stores. Years passed. A decade passed. The production of holiday sweaters never truly stopped. It trickled on through the 1990s, adding to the old-hat crap pile, kind of like “Call of Duty” does today. You want to yell at the poor dear, “Just be still and die already!” Consignment shops stockpiled mountains of these sweaters, and it seemed as if they were forgotten to history, except to preschool teachers and your one uncle who only wears what your aunt tells him to.

Who brought ugly Christmas sweaters back to life?Oh, Canada. First you demonstrate a phenomenal civility, fabulous health care, and give us William Shatner, Leonard Cohen, and “Videodrome.” Then WHAM, we get a stake of holly stabbed in the back.

The first ugly Christmas sweater party is widely recognized as having taken place at the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver. Two Canadian dudes, Jordan Birch and Chris Boyd, gathered friends for fruitcake and joyful noises with an ugly Christmas sweater dress code. The party is now in its 15th year, has over a 1,000 attendees, and raises money for the Children’s Wish Foundation.

Though many holiday sweaters were originally worn with genuine affection, ugly Christmas sweater parties brought out the faux pas fun. People wore these sweaters for irony, for nostalgia of simpler times, for clothes to get blitzed in that you don’t have to worry about ruining, and that you can let your guard down in and just have fun. The more over the top, the better.

Along the way, you can rebuke admitted-drugger-of-women Bill Cosby for popularizing dreadful “Cosby sweaters” on the “The Cosby Show,” Chevy Chase in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” and Jimmy Fallon for his segment “The 12 Days of Christmas Sweaters.”

Ugly Christmas sweaters everywhereGhostface Killah is selling an ugly Christmas sweater this year. So are Run the Jewels, Alice Cooper, Nas, the Misfits, and Iron Maiden. The gay apparel went from earnest, old-time sweaters you’d find in a secondhand shop to hand-decorated mess-terpieces to a multimillion dollar business of creating new, rather than recycling old, holiday sweaters.

Tipsy Elves, an online shop full of collegiate and comedic sweaters, began in 2013 after getting a sponsorship from “Shark Tank.” You’re as likely to find a centaur Santa as see reindeers banging. is where you’ll find hell-tons of pop culture-related holiday sweaters. If you don’t already feel comfortable making Chewbacca noises at your office party, put on a Chewbacca ugly Christmas sweater and see how it goes. You’ll find everything from gingerbread men that want to get baked to your favorite sports team represented in hideous knit.

If you’re a straight-up traditionalist with retro-world cravings, try your local secondhand shop (like Rose Duds, 801 Main Ave., B), Etsy, or The aforementioned is a Ragstock subsidiary that has over 25,000 vintage seasonal sweaters, cardigans, turtlenecks, and vests.

Whatever you do, do it soon. National Ugly Christmas Sweater Day is celebrated on the third Friday of December. This year it hits Dec. 16.


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