History of the Ugly Sweater Trend

On Aug 26, 2022

You’ve seen it many winters: millions of funny Christmas sweaters scavenged from grandpa’s closets and worn shamelessly to one of those tacky Christmas parties thrown through the month of December.  But have you ever wondered what started this peculiar trend? Even high-fashion retailers have now included their own version of the ugly Christmas sweater. So where did it begin? This is the tale of how it happened:

Ugly Christmas Sweaters: Where Did The Trend Come From?

It All Started in the 50's

Ugly Christmas sweaters made their popular appearance in the 50’s with the mass commercialization of Christmas. They were first known as “Jingle Bell Sweaters”, and featured discrete Christmas themed decorations. The original ugly Christmas sweaters were never intended to be “ugly” they were actually pretty artistic and joyful.

The trend had a modest presence in the media until the 80’s, when it became popular on TV.

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It wasn't until the 1980s that the item hit the mainstream. The shift came thanks to pop culture and comedies, with goofball dad characters like Chevy Chase's Clark Griswold in "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" turning the holiday sweater into an uncomely but endearing expression of cheer. Snowflake-emblazoned sweaters weren't considered cool, but they radiated yule, and were sported at office parties and on Christmas Day.

The History Behind the Ugly Christmas Sweater - Placeit Blog

The early 2000s also saw new life breathed into this now holiday staple. According to the "Ugly Christmas Sweater Party Book: The Definitive Guide to Getting Your Ugly On," Christmas sweater parties started kicking off just around the time Bridget was recoiling at Darcy's outfit.
The first so themed get-together took place in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2002, said Brian Miller, one of the book's authors and founder of online shop UglyChristmasSweaterParty.com, in a phone interview. "It's hard to say what triggered the change in perspective, but I think that the moment someone wore the garment in a humorous way, people started seeing the comic side of it, and thinking 'this thing at the back of the closet could be fun, instead of something awful that nobody wants'," he said.

The popularity of the ugly sweater snowballed from there.

It's National Ugly Christmas Sweater Day | CNN

Fast-fashion giants like Topshop and high-end retailers like Nordstrom began filling their shelves and sites with gaudy designs each holiday season. Vintage stores and the Salvation Army capitalized on the trend by upping their stocks of fuzzy snowmen and dancing Santa pullovers. Even the fashion pack came around. In 2007, Stella McCartney released a polar bear-themed alpine sweater. Givenchy followed in 2010, and Dolce & Gabbana the following year.

A Look Back at Holiday Sweaters on the Runways | Vogue

2012 was a turning point for the ugly sweater craze. UK charity Save the Children launched Christmas Jumper Day, a fundraising event encouraging people to don their most cringeworthy sweaters. British newspaper The Telegraph described the item as "this season's must-have," while the New York Times reported on ugly Christmas sweater-themed runs, pub crawls and specialized e-tailers booming across the States. Concurrently, the knits began showing more tinsel, bells and wacky details, reaching peak kitsch.
Celebrities, from Taylor Swift to Kanye West embraced the trend, too. Late night talk show host Jimmy Fallon even started running a regular segment called "12 Days of Christmas Sweaters," which still airs today.

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That’s right! There is an official national day to wear your ugly sweater. Honor national Ugly Christmas Sweater Day on December 21 by wearing something festive! Time to wear your holiday sweater loud and proud.

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