Ugly Christmas Sweaters: Not Just for Novelty Parties

Obnoxious knits are the new holiday hip!
The new season brings new fashion, and winter is no exception – but the hot trend for the cold months this year takes most of us by surprise: ugly. And not just ugly – Christmas ugly. We’re talking Santa sweaters with sewn sequins and bells, turtlenecks with beaded gingerbread men and candy canes, busy Fair Isle stripes with alternating snowflakes, polka-dots and Christmas trees. The pretentious, the grandmotherly, and the just plain ridiculous are now – believe it or not – gaining ground in the world of fashion.

From Horrid to Hip: a Brief History

It’s hard to say where it all started: Some claim ugly Christmas sweaters began as an online phenomenon, others point to infamous repulsive sweater cameos like Colin Firth’s black and velvet turtleneck – you know, the one plastered with the garish face of a red-nosed reindeer – in the film Bridget Jones’s Diary. Most of us have heard of, if not attended, an Ugly Christmas Sweater party, which seems every year a more and more widely-practiced variation on the traditional White Elephant or Secret Santa gift exchange. But only recently, it seems, has the unusual trend begun to gain favour in fashion. Why, you may ask: One reason stands out more than others; celebrity endorsement. The Guardian recently posted a photo gallery featuring celebrities embracing the outlandish with their holiday getups. Among those included were Matt Damon and Justin Bieber; each boasting an over-the-top Christmas jacket. Damon’s, a black and color-checkered cardigan, contained a Brady-Bunch-like collage of Santas in coloured squares, as well as cherry-on-top, furry-bearded Santa accents over the wrists. Bieber’s was a cross between a red-and-white athletics jacket and Fair Isle; poinsettia stripes across snow-like polka dots; and they’re just the tip of the iceberg: the epidemic is catching.

Now Featured in the High Street: Christmas Sweaters

Usually when we get the invitation to attend an ugly-themed holiday party in our festive worst, our first instinct is to raid the thrift store. If we can’t find something at Goodwill or Salvation Army, we might try asking a friend or family member – somebody almost always has some decked-out knitted nightmare in a dusty corner of the closet, not worn since – you guessed it – their own previous Ugly Sweater Christmas party. But this year, and in years to come, you might have a more difficult time finding these sweaters secondhand; if high-end European chains such as ASOS and Topshop are anything to judge by; Christmas sweaters are now a trending winter fashion item.

So Christmas sweaters are fashionable: but does that make them any less ugly?

One interesting point to observe, is that as the media denotes the rising trend, social commentary is not all in agreement. Imogen Fox of The Guardian writes “Not everyone has realized that novelty knits have the fashionista’s nod of approval. A BBC advert for Christmas TV featured celebrities wearing what some commentators described as “wonderfully awful festive jumpers”,” labeling the BBC’s conclusion as an embarrassing display of fashion ignorance. But many, it seems, would agree that the sweaters are ugly, even if conceding they sell well. Jack McCarthy, who projected a $5,000 profit in a single month of re-selling Christmas sweaters found at secondhand shops, says “People just seem to love outdoing each other in ugliness.”

What is fashionable, what is attractive, and what is simply done in the name of gaudy humour, is ultimately for the wearer to decide at his or her discretion; but at the very least this year, as you’re going through presents deciding what to keep and what to donate; consider keeping that ludicrous knitted thing from a distant relative – you just might want to wear it next year!

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James Steele

James Steele

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