Ugly Christmas sweaters--they're comically ornate, relentlessly tacky,
and contemptuous of fashion's most sacred tenets. They're also all the
This holiday season, retailers like Bloomingdale's and
H&M are adorning their display windows and catalogs with snowflake
and reindeer knits, according
to The Wall Street Journal, while thrift stores and websites struggle to keep
their vintage designs in stock. Searches for "ugly Christmas sweaters"
are 30 percent higher this December than last, the Journal notes, while
eBay witnessed its most expensive holiday sweater sale ever this year:
$282.59 for a sweater with three reindeer gracing the front.
What accounts for the ugly Christmas sweater's popularity?
Mixture of Nostalgia and Ironic Humor, proposes Rachel Dodes at the
Wall Street Journal. The Christmas sweater transitioned from a homespun
treasure to a mass-market hit in the 1980s, she explains, and has
thrived commercially in part because it conjures up "memories of
grandma" and associations with holiday cheer. But one need look no
further than the website myuglychristmassweater.com--whose inventory includes a vest decorated with a stuffed-animal
reindeer head and battery-powered light-up antlers--to conclude that
people are also just having fun with the renegade fashion.
- Adults Imitating Young People, offers
Andrea Simakis at The Cleveland Plain Dealer. While the "modern-day
origins of the godawful sweater" can be traced to the "knitted
pullovers with clashing colors and Rorschach test patterns" that Bill
Cosby wore on The Cosby Show, the Cosby sweater's popularity petered
out in the mid- to late-1980s, becoming the "province of dowager aunts,
clueless dads and craft-fair-loving grannies." But today, Simakis
continues, "the festive, 'made in China' monstrosities are chic again,
thanks to high school and college students with a taste for the ironic.
And now, as they did with the Honda Element and Facebook, adults have
co-opted the trend, throwing their own kitschy sweater soirees for
- Growing Popularity of Ugly Sweater Parties, submits
Nikki Lackowski at Patch's Marinda del Ray, California site. The Christmas sweater has a long history, Lackowski concedes: "There
are knitting patterns of snowy pines dating back to the 1950s, the era
when the commercialization of Christmas really took off." But it's
making a comeback now as people throw contests for the ugliest sweater
online or at parties with co-workers or friends.
- And the Psychology Underlying These Parties, adds
Jason Fell at Entrepreneur: "The parties have caught on because the
outré attire gives people a chance to let their guard down."
- Google, posits David Zax at Fast Company. Zax profiles RustyZipper.com, which has sold 3,000 ugly Christmas sweaters this year, and learns that 20 percent of the company's web traffic comes from Google AdWords clicks. This leads Zax to conclude that "the ugly Christmas sweater boom is fueled by Google juice," though Rusty Zipper's Jennifer Chadwick also suggests that Americans are embracing hideous knits as "both a celebration and mockery of holiday excess and Christmas aesthetics."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.