Frumpy But Festive

By Kristen Castillo

November 10, 2015 4 min read

Ugly Christmas sweaters used to make people cringe. Nowadays, the hideous sweaters are a source of fun and pride.

"The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon" has a 12 Days of Christmas Sweaters event every year. Retailers are embracing the frumpy trend, too, selling eye-catching sweaters with larger-than-life holiday prints, designs and embellishments.

"The kitschy fun of '80s holiday sweaters are back in style," says Anne Marie Blackman, co-author of "Rock Your Ugly Christmas Sweater" and president of My Ugly Christmas Sweater.

The ugly sweater or "uglies" phenomenon started in the 1980s as a fun party theme. By the 2000s, college kids were mocking the trend by hosting ugly sweater-themed parties.

"They were poking fun at the sweaters of another generation, and had a contest for the 'most ugly' sweater at the party,'" says Blackman. "Over the last 10 years, the Christmas sweater theme has exploded in popularity and is now seen in workplace parties, fundraisers and 5k road races. The trend has evolved. Christmas sweaters are not just for parties, but are back in style."

She says these days, people want three types of ugly Christmas sweaters: vintage '80s vests and sweaters, brand-new holiday-themed sweaters and embellished over-the-top styles.

*Competitive Spirit

The holidays are a spirited time of year, and that spirit can turn competitive when holiday-themed sweaters are involved.

At The Exchange Tavern, an Irish pub, they have an ugly sweater night once a year in December. It started eight years ago when a friend of pub owner Teddi Davis hosted an ugly sweater contest.

Davis surmises the look started as "an anti-holiday glam move." She thinks it's here to stay "because it's fun, and a nice contrast to the dress-up style of most holiday gatherings."

One thing's for sure, though. "Anything goes, but the colors can't be tasteful," says Davis, explaining ugly sweaters are an excuse to be "silly without apology."

A market research survey conducted by Ask Your Target Market, asked 400 people about ugly sweaters. The findings? Most people, 83 percent, have never attended an ugly sweater party. Only 15 percent currently own an ugly sweater, while nearly 28 percent owned one in the past. The majority of ugly sweaters came from friends or family, 49 percent, as well as thrift shops, almost 23 percent, local shops, 15 percent, and large chain stores, 15 percent.

*Ugly is Awesome

"Ugly is in the eye of the beholder. What's fashionable to some is ugly to others," says Blackman. "When someone is competing for a prize at an ugly Christmas sweater party, they like a sweater that is tacky or is over-the-top with decorations."

Look for Santa, snowmen, snowflakes, trees and lights. Don't forget candy canes, wrapped presents and reindeer!

"Retailers are now encouraged to keep it going with more gaudy looks, making your next ugly holiday sweater easier to find," says Davis.

That means you'll be seeing more flashing twinkle Christmas lights, pins, textured fabrics like flannel and velvet, as well as colorful buttons, snaps, sequins and feathers.

*Ugly Fans

Sports fans can show their pride in bold way, too. The NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL have all licensed ugly team sweaters featuring the team colors, logos and mascots.

"Fans love to dress up for games, you see it in the stands all season long," says Michael Lewis, the founder and CEO of Forever Collectibles. "Having a holiday option to wear and support your team instead of your jersey makes perfect sense."

Toast the holiday with an ugly Christmas sweater of your own. You'll know it when you see it: unsightly colors, garish designs and outrageous flourishes. Choose the right one, and you could be named the big winner -- ugliest sweater!

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