A cozy story of the ugly Christmas sweater
Move over glittering trees and wreaths, eggnog, stockings and the office’s secret Santa – there’s a new kid on the block. Over the past decade, the ugly Christmas sweater has become firmly entrenched in Christmas culture.
You know the one. It’s a wool sweater, usually in different shades of red, white, and green, often in questionable fabric, and with at least one Christmas-inspired design – a snowman, garlands, reindeer, or candy canes. Additional points if it has 3D pom poms or bells.
Clothing quickly became a holiday staple, ubiquitous like Christmas lights and wrapping paper. It’s obnoxious and cheesy, but also hazy and rather healthy – the fashion equivalent of a Hallmark Christmas movie (with a fair amount of irony).
However, it took time for UCS to find its place in the pantheon of Christmas fundamentals.
Christmas-themed sweaters began to appear in the 1950s, perhaps a nod to the growing commercialization of the holidays. Originally called “Jingle Bell Sweaters,” they weren’t as garish as today’s iterations and found little popularity in the market, although some TV personalities – notably crooners Val Doonican and Andy Williams – really embraced the ugly side of the party topper.
Val Doonican performing on the ABC series ‘The Val Doonican Show‘. Credit: Walt Disney Television Photo Arc / Walt Disney Television / Walt Disney Television via Getty
It was not until the 1980s that the article became mainstream. Change came through pop culture and comedy, with daddy goofball characters like Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswold in âNational Lampoon’s Christmas Vacationâ turning the holiday sweater into an inconvenient but endearing expression of joy. Sweaters adorned with snowflakes weren’t considered cool, but they radiated Christmas and were worn at office parties and on Christmas Day.
Chevy Chase in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” Credit: Warner bros
The resurgence did not last long. In the 1990s, the Christmas sweater lost its popularity; it was something only your old fashioned old parents would think of wearing or giving as a gift. At the turn of the new millennium, the article was widely viewed as a sartorial incident that raised eyebrows.
Think of the 2001 âBridget Jones Diaryâ in which Colin Firth’s Mark Darcy turns to greet Bridget (RenÃ©e Zellweger) at a family celebration wearing an unappealing knitted garment with a giant red nosed reindeer. Bridget is horrified. You probably were too if you watched it at the movies. But you probably also smiled. Such is the heartwarming power of UCS.
Colin Firth in “The Diary of Bridget Jones”. Credit: Miramax / Everett Collection
The early 2000s also saw new life breathe new life into this vacation staple. According to the “Ugly Christmas Sweater Party Book: The Definitive Guide to Getting Into Your Skin,” the Christmas sweater parties started around the time Bridget was backing away from Darcy’s outfit.
The first meeting on this topic was in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2002, Brian Miller, one of the book’s authors and founder of online store UglyChristmasSweaterParty.com, said in a telephone interview. “It’s hard to say what triggered the shift in perspective, but I think the moment someone wore the garment in a humorous way, people started to see the comedic side of it and think âThat thing in the back of the closet could be fun, instead of something horrible that nobody wants,â he said.
The popularity of the ugly sweater snowballed from there.
Over the next decade, festive knitting evolved into “a new holiday tradition,” as Miller described it. “It has become the mistletoe of our generation,” he added. “Which is quite remarkable, when you think about it.”
Fast-fashion giants like Topshop and high-end retailers like Nordstrom have started to fill their shelves and websites with flashy designs every holiday season. Vintage stores and The Salvation Army capitalized on the trend by increasing their stocks of fluffy snowmen and dancing Santa sweaters. Even the fashion pack has come. In 2007, Stella McCartney released a polar bear-themed alpine sweater. Givenchy followed in 2010, and Dolce & Gabbana the following year.
The Stella McCartney Fall / Winter 2008 show. Credit: Chris Moore / Catwalking / Getty Images
2012 was a turning point for the craze for lousy sweaters. British charity Save the Children launched Christmas Jumper Day, a fundraising event encouraging people to put on their cutest sweaters. British newspaper The Telegraph described the article as “this season’s must-have”, while the New York Times reported on ugly Christmas sweater-themed races, pub crawls and specialty e-merchants. booming across the United States. At the same time, knits began to show more garlands, bells and wacky details, reaching the peak of kitsch.
Celebrities from Taylor Swift to Kanye West have also embraced the trend. Late night talk show host Jimmy Fallon even started airing a regular segment called “12 Days of Christmas Sweaters,” which still airs today.
Kanye west Credit: John Shearer / WireImage / WireImage
On the contrary, the rise of social media has only increased the âItâ status of the ugly sweater. Today, we compete to show our love of the Christmas sweater on Instagram, as anyone from big retailer Target to fast food chain Red Lobster (whose UCS has a pocket to keep food warm) ), and more and more fashion houses are offering their own versions of the garment. .
âWhen I attended my first Ugly Sweater Party in the early 2000s, I never imagined the garment would take off like this,â Miller said. “Although it’s easy to see why: Ugly knits can be worn by anyone – from my daughter at her school’s Ugly Sweater Contest to office workers at their year-end party. They’re democratic. . And they’re a lot of fun. Christmas can be quite stressful, wearing something silly can help relieve the pressure. “
This article was first published in December 2019.