I don’t know about you, but I’m still waiting for that holiday party invite. You know. The one with Dress Code Required. Not one asking for scintillating, effervescent holiday cocktail attire, though, but rather for the ugliest Christmas sweater one can muster.
Yes, Virginia, Ugly Christmas Sweaters are really a thing. Used to be a time when these sweaters were known as Jingle Bells sweaters, sometime during the 1950s, back when the holidays were less about commercialism and consumerism and more about a realness and innocence we all seem to be pining for today. Jingle Bells sweaters were homespun wonders, most likely knit by hand by a real grandmother, worn without a hint of irony by aunts, uncles, and grandfathers everywhere during family holiday gatherings.
The Big (Ugly) ’80s
Ugly sweaters stretched in popularity during the ‘80s. Remember Chevy Chase in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation? And who can forget he-who-shall-remain-nameless from television’s Huxtable family, a style statement for whom we have designer Koos van der Akker to thank. Then, around 2001, the sweater parties kicked off, first as a joke with tongue firmly in cheek.
Today, this “fashion” trend has morphed from family fun to full-on holiday festivities, with stiff style competition amongst the revelers. If you haven’t been invited to at least one, how do you even prove your holiday spirit? Last year, my teenage nephew frantically scoured the Salvation Army to find the perfect ugly sweater for his high school’s holiday gathering.
Style of the Season
Workplaces employ Ugly Christmas Sweater competitions as team builders, gifting winners for their brazen style bravery. Win-win is to wear a sweater that is as embellished as possible, one woven with multiple patterns, decorated with pom poms, ribbons, stuffed teddy bears, real mistletoe, garlands, even LED-powered lights. Gaudy is good here. The uglier, the better. The more kitsch, the merrier.
You can buy pure knitted garishness at sites like Tipsy Elves and UglyChristmasSweaters which are dedicated solely to this travesty of fashion and good holiday dress taste. In case you’re more the handy type, there’s a Make Your Own Ugly Sweater kit at ShopBop, and thrift stores are always stuffed full of these holiday homages. Just in case, there are also Hanukkah sweaters, making for non-denominational fun, too.
However, if you don’t have a sweater party to attend this year, don’t pout and don’t cry—I’m telling you why. The third Friday in December is now known as National Ugly Sweater Day, so you at least have December 15th to make merry and wear ugly this year.
But What If You Don’t Want Them Ugly?
Even mainstream retailers such as Macy’s, Nordstrom’s, and Target, as well as the occasional high-end designer, are answering the wish list for ugly Christmas sweaters. What’s harder to find, it seems, are Christmas sweaters that capture the spirit of the season without blinding the bartender.
A few years back, Stella McCartney crafted a Polar Bear intarsia sweater (super cute, FYI). Today, Saint Laurent weaves Christmas trees and French bulldogs into a Fair Isle-style pullover—at a price that will bust an entire holiday budget. Madewell, Anthropologie, and Boston Proper are among the high-profile retailers offering more subtle selections for those wary of looking like an overstuffed Christmas turkey or Griswold Family yard art.
Pretty Christmas Sweaters
No door needed, just don the wreath. A slim, adorable look from Top Shop at Nordstrom’s. $100.
Why not just BE the tinsel? This shimmery balloon-sleeve sweater from Anthropologie is fun, festive and elegant too. $168
Top Shop also has a sweater that kind of represents your mind with too much on the shopping list or what your lights look like when you pull them from the attic. Candy canes make everything better. $78
Talk about warm and fuzzy. A cuddly polar bear face sweater from Target. Junior sizing but don’t let that stop you. $29.99
We know there are some cat ladies out there who’ll be purring over this gem from Forever 21 (which is how old we all stay in our heart—remember?) $22.90
This is a new thing: A sexy Christmas sweater from Boston Proper. We say go for it. $89.
Here’s a new meaning to the Santa Suit. Looking to a boost your career during holiday office parties or your social media cache around the egg nog? Try a Christmas-theme printed tailored skirt suit from the store that brought you Miracle on 34th Street. $79.99.