Originally the territory of Bill Cosby or Freddy Krueger, the ugly Christmas sweater has now become an ironic icon of holiday kitsch that even the trendiest hipsters are pompously rocking. While that first big wave of mass-produced horrors swept through closets in the mid-1980s, fashion avatars have eagerly embraced the past and made “old” new again. Yet, like Rubik’s cubes and aviator sunglasses, this is one ’80s fad we aren’t completely sold on.
Vancouver, the Canadian city that claims to have started it all, declared in 2012 that Dec. 21 is its official “Ugly Christmas Sweater Day.” Plus, according to Google Trends, the phrase “ugly Christmas sweater” cropped up seven years ago and has grown in use ever since.
What does this all mean? It’s the classic story of a novelty fad. (Apologies to the hipsters who mistakenly thought it was underground, but ugly sweater parties are super-mainstream now.) Most commonly you’ll find these sweaters in the house parties of twentysomethings and thirtysomethings who are nostalgically clinging to the starry-eyed magic of the holidays; and, as the years go on, the expectations of “ugly” get higher.
Websites like Etsy.com milk the handcrafted ugly Christmas sweater business dry, so its prices are often more hideous than the sweaters attached to them. A much cheaper alternative is thrifting. Between the infinite rows of shoulder pads and sequins, pure gold is hiding in the racks of our local resale and thrift shops.
Everyone has a perfect ugly sweater — just like every wizard has a Patronus — and sometimes you just need to summon your own. So why not craft a sweater? Tinsel, ornaments, cotton balls, and stuffed animals tacked onto a sweater could seriously make you Facebook gold.
Great ugly sweaters leave you wondering how many Yetis were slain in the making, and consequently make you Google “yeti” to see if they really do exist or not. (The jury is still out on the yeti.)