history of the ugly christmas sweater

Ugly Christmas Sweaters are a huge cultural touchpoint every year, but nobody really seems to know why they wear them or how the trend started. Well, gather round, because I'm about to break down how the trend of wearing ugly Christmas sweaters started, and how they became the yearly staple we see today.


In the 1950s, the retail landscape started to change from the local corner store to major department stores and national retailers. Alongside this shift, holidays started to get merchandised as well. Stores introduced what were then called "Jingle Bell Sweaters," brightly patterned knit sweaters with Christmas themes. They didn't really catch on as a trend, although they were endorsed by some celebrities, like holiday staple Andy Williams, who loved donning Jingle Bell Sweaters on the covers of his holiday items.


The next time Ugly Christmas sweaters made a cultural impact was in the 1980s. Pop culture, in particular comedies like National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, showed their main characters wearing tacky Christmas sweaters. In a world filled with shoulder pads, neon, and oversized hair, the ugly Christmas sweater was popularized for the very first time, and they could be seen at office holiday parties from coast to coast. I like to picture Gordon Gecko making his "Greed is Good" speech wearing a sweater full of tassels and bells.


Unfortunately, the trend, at this point, was short-lived, and in the 1990s, ugly Christmas sweaters became a joke, something only grandmothers and other people who were out of touch with mainstream fashion wore. Pop culture, having just a decade before spearheaded the Christmas sweater movement, now jumped on the dog pile, as seen in movies like Bridget Jones Diary, when Mark Darcy's reindeer jumper is a reason for derision, or books like Harry Potter, when Ron loathes the ugly sweaters his mother gifts him and his brothers for Christmas.


But, with the dawn of the new millennium came new life of the ugly Christmas sweater. The first documented case of an Ugly Christmas Sweater Party occurred in Vancouver, Canada, in 2002. The "un-cool" factor of the ugly Christmas sweater was exactly what made them trendy now, as kitchiness became something to embrace instead of avoid. As the internet became a more powerful tool in all of our lives, the idea for Ugly Christmas Sweater Parties spread globally.

Soon, major retailers from Target to Nordstrom were stocking up on ugly Christmas sweaters to meet the demand, and they were even seen on the runways of Givenchy and Dolce & Gabbana. Ugly Christmas Sweater Day was declared a national holiday, and pop culture jumped back on the bandwagon they had once abandoned, with talk shows like The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and The View producing yearly segments highlighting tacky sweaters.

Today, the ugly Christmas sweater is seen as a tradition, with over 6 million sweaters sold each year.