The ugly holiday sweater you owned when you were child was embarrassing and itchy. Today, it’s still embarrassing and itchy, but it’s also a beloved holiday cultural phenomenon, in the form of an Ugly Holiday Sweater Party. For at least 10 years, grown adults have been trotting up light-up Rudolph sweaters, or hand-knitted Christmas tree abominations for laughs. Who do we have to thank — or blame?
The actual mass-market ugly sweater reached its peak popularity sometime in the 1980s, according to the Wall Street Journal. That’s when people wore the sweaters in earnest, supposedly.
The sarcasm may be thanks to a 2001 party trend from Vancouver, Canada. At least, that’s according to the three men who wrote “Ugly Christmas Sweater Party Book: The Definitive Guide to Getting Your Ugly On.” Authors Brian Miller, Adam Paulson and Kevin Wool hedge that claim, saying the world will never be sure who held the first ugly sweater party. They also manage to squeeze out 152 pages of advice on throwing a party with instructions that can be summed up in one sentence: “Tell your guests to wear ugly holiday sweaters.”
Since that time, ugly sweater parties have earned a much-desired place on the list of Stuff White People Like in 2008, where author Christian Lander wrote that one of the greatest difficulties of preparing for an ugly sweater party is finding an appropriately tacky sweater: “If you find yourself invited to one of these parties, you must begin your preparations immediately. Craftier white people have been searching used clothing stores since last Christmas, and so you should not expect to find anything of significant ironic value.”
No need to worry about that — the authors of the party guide have also set up an online shop for ugly Christmas sweaters, offering poinsettias, snowflakes and Santas galore, all for $24.
Companies like Caribou Coffee have jumped on the ugly sweater bandwagon too, with Caribou’s sweater maker: Users can design their own ugly sweater on Facebook, and Caribou will give a sweater to the needy for each one designed. It takes the irony-imbued trend back to its roots: Celebrating the holiday with earnestness, giving, and warmth.
That earnestness may be making its way back full circle. The one part nostalgia, one part hipster mockery has popped up on runways and into mainstream fashion with Fair Isle styles, like this $600 reindeer sweater.
Are you headed to an ugly sweater party this holiday season? Be sure to send us photos of your cringe-worthy polyester-blend bedazzled embarrassments. Upload images of your ugly holiday sweaters here, and we’ll be sure to feature the best — or worst.