With winter in full swing, it is time to once again prepare for the emergence of one of the holiday season’s predominant claims to fame — the ugly holiday sweater. For a garment so tacky, these sweaters somehow remain a popular tradition among men and women alike.
An unavoidable feature of the season, ugly sweaters are being sought after and worn for reasons differing from their earnest past.
They can be identified by their obnoxious overuse of holiday reds and greens and ridiculously large portrayals of winter scenes and questionable patterns. You can’t forget the bonus add-ons including, but not limited to, jingle bells, sequins, felt appliqués, bejewels, buttons, tassels, pom poms, faux fur and sometimes even blinking lights. The combination of these aspects make for an explosive holiday eyesore that demand attention and compel holiday cheer.
Several mysteries surround this trend, beginning with the obvious question, “where did it originate?” Since they seem to be far from the ultimate winter fashion statement, it is easy to wonder where ugly holiday sweaters got their start. Tracing the roots of the sweater has proven to be easier said than done.
According to a Dec. 18, 2001, Chicago Tribune article by Greg Morago, “It’s not like you can open any number of scholarly dissertations on fashion and find an entry for ‘people who deliberately want to look like absurd members of the Family Kringle’ or footnotes for ‘women who knit too much.’”
As accurate as this statement is, it is not to say that there aren’t ideas circulating with regard to the birth of this style oddity.
Since knitting patterns of snowy pines date back to the ’50s, it is clear that ugly holiday sweaters have been a part of our lives for quite some time. In a Dec. 22, 2011, Time article by Allison Berrys, she notes that although the sweater as a genuine article of clothing presented itself in the late 19th century, repulsive holiday renderings of the garment only began to make an appearance in more recent decades.
In her Dec. 20, 2010, Wall Street Journal article, Rachel Dodes elaborates on that claim, stating that before claiming their status as a big hit in the mass market, the earliest forms of holiday sweaters were homemade. She goes on to add that since gaining popularity, they have been selling without fail.
With some light shed on the origin of these sweaters, the next logical question is, “what accounts for their recent surge in fame?”
The popularity of ugly holiday sweaters faded as the ‘90s approached, but has seen a resurgence in the past decade. In her Dec. 22, 2010, Time article, writer Megan Friedman says that the resurrection of awful Christmas is in direct correlation with the current ugly holiday sweater party craze seen among young people.
Ugly holiday sweater parties are a cherished holiday cultural phenomenon. The parties can be most simply defined as get togethers dedicated to showing off the best in tacky sweaters. Though insulting to fashion’s most essential rules, ugly sweater parties are all the rage. By requiring that guests wear sweaters of the visually repulsive variety, they encourage an entire industry to promote the celebration of tackiness. A tradition this strange must have a traceable origin.
Vancouver, Canada, is arguably home to the party that pioneered it all. Worldwide popularity of the ugly holiday sweater party is undeniable, but according to Chris Boyd and Jordan Birch in bcliving’s Dec. 6 article by Jenn Laidlaw, Vancouver deserves the official position as the ugly sweater’s place of origin.
Official trendsetters Boyd and Birch say that their one goal was to make the tackiest, most spirited Christmas party imaginable come to life. Their efforts have not only resulted in an event hosted annually in Vancouver’s Commodore Ballroom, but also the establishment of a beloved tradition and its spread to the States.
Ugly sweater fever is currently sweeping the nation, and not just in the form of parties. Websites are springing up everywhere to both sell sweaters and suggest DIY ideas. Sweater contests have made their debut in various bars and offices wanting to play host to friendly rivalry.
Retailers are selling winter has-beens. In addition, the appearance of visually offensive holiday sweaters in thrift stores, on the runways and in mainstream fashion is impossible to ignore.
Whether or not it amounts to a fashion emergency, the ugly holiday sweater has earned a lasting place in many wardrobes. Adoration for holiday sweaters and the festivities surrounding them can be attributed, among other things, to high esteem in recent decades.
What used to be an essential in your grandma’s closet is now a seasoned demonstration of holiday cheer and an excuse to party. This trend may only present itself once a year, but it grows in popularity with each season.
Mollie Schaefer is a senior in print journalism. Please send comments to [email protected]