I won’t tell. Go ahead, drag that sequined, blinking light sweater out of hiding for its annual holiday spin. What else can make you feel so happily over-dressed for success but something so tinselly tacky? Office party or off-center homey soiree, there’s something de rigueur about donning your gaudiest apparel for the sheer fun of it.
The ugly Christmas sweater has become a tradition and traditions like this call out everyone’s most competitive, over-the-top spirit — or temporary insanity. A graphic design unicorn, who dresses more like boring Bonwit (knock-offs) than bohemian, I can probably rock a cool sweater design, but the time required would really bug everyone I know. As most artists who take hours and weeks deciding the subtle nuances of each color, by the time I’d create a suitably crazy Christmas sweater, the holidays would be over.
Already midpoint in your own holiday timeline, I’m sure if a sweater masterpiece isn’t on your current your to-do list, that ship has sailed. You could pretend you didn’t know you had to come dressed as Santa’s workshop, but then your critique of everyone else’s attire wouldn’t hold water. Then again, when you spend so much time creating something, you’d like to at least be able to re-gift it, but there are probably few takers.
When did this Christmas craziness first begin? Most would agree that the birthplace of this offbeat tradition is the Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, British Columbia in 2002. Before that, garish holiday sweaters were slightly embarrassing, but through the years, Christmas sweaters, from oddly beautiful to downright weird became trendy. Later, college students, loving the irony of their parents’ 80’s fashions, upped the satire factor with vintage wearable Christmas duds. Who knew that your maiden aunt’s itchy holiday sweater, bedazzled with twinkling trees would actually become — vogue. (If you can live with the guilt that the aunt once wore that sweater proudly without a trace of irony, then wear that glitzy fashion statement with all bodaciousness.)
Combining Halloween with Holy Jingle Bells, Christmas sweaters help us let loose in our own unique holiday style. Unfortunately, that sometimes hideously glamorous apparel has become big business, as companies across the nation get their ugly on for Christmas season dollars. Some ritzy retail holiday knits are so expensive you need a commitment to lifetime annual sweater parties to justify owning one. Mass-marketed pseudo homespun treasures echo have become a lucrative ‘thing’. There’s the vest adorned with a fuzzy, stuffed reindeer head, even an entire kitschy holiday suit (yes, they really did that).
Ugly Christmas sweaters have become as holiday American as apple pie and eggnog. Vintage festive is chic again and both adults and teens have co-opted these cutesy oddities (or just plain odd) in a big way. That being said, it often seems incongruous, especially in the season of giving to less fortunate, that we can use sweaters for once-a-year decoration, not warmth and function. Ironic. The chicly ugly Christmas sweater might join the pet rock, Silly Bands, Pogs and other useless items only disposable income can buy. To those climbing out of poverty into a new job without an interview suit, I have to think there’s more use for my husband’s suits donated after his death than the gaudy, candy-cane laden holiday suit. (yes, it’s a thing) That eye-bleeding sucker gives new meaning to putting your worst foot forward. At least in Vancouver, that ugly Christmas sweater ignited an annual party that helps support the Make A Wish Foundation. Imagine how cool it would be if Bloomie’s brown bags, instead of expensive ugly held plain ol’ warm sweaters for people who really needed them? The statement the retail energy expends creating the wildest Yuletide yarn is both of fashion – and excess.
On the other hand, I never did get why anyone would opt for a strapless holiday dress in 10 degree weather, when sweaters make so much more sense. So, if you must party like you’re Bridget Jones or Cliff Huxtable, DIY that sweater. Make it YOUR brand of hilarious, not a mass produced one. Think about what your great aunt would have worn – or given you that you hid in your bottom drawer.
While I live vicariously through the dizzying array of ditzy online sweaters or on those I love who do their part to celebrate vintage festive, I haven’t yet co-opted the tradition. Though in my head, I can envision myself looking gorgeous (not weird) in the boldest, shiniest holiday sweater, reality often doesn’t agree, as my full on after shower view would attest. So, while I didn’t donate (yet) to better holiday causes, at least the Christmas sweater I actually did design harmed no animals in the process. Okay, it’s not fuzzy, warm and only available on my digital Christmas Card this year, courtesy of Photoshop, I did my bit for the ugly sweater cause. (Instagram worthy? Maybe)
So if you’re thinking of stylin’ with a bizarrely festive sweater this holiday, go for it. Dress to impress. If you’re more Scrooge than Santa, wear your Grinch on your motley green sweater sleeve. But if Buddy the Elf is more your style, you, too, can be a cotton-headed ninny muggins. Comb the thrift stores or grandma’s closet (unless you’re the grandma. in which case, you might rethink your wardrobe) More is more in the gumdrop forest of Ugly Christmas sweaters. More trees, more stars, more sequins and pomp poms. Throw on some bells and jingle all the way to the appetizer table. Just draw the line at Christmas onesies or tacky full on holiday suits.
What are you waiting for? Get merry and bright, in colors loud, and proud day-glow. Deck yourself in tinsel, bells and chatzkas. Go wild. Like dinosaurs? Sock monkeys? Throw them in the mix. (Son of a Nutcracker, do I KNOW you?) If it’s weirdly unexpected, you’ve upped your gay apparel game. If it’s not ‘in your face’, if people can’t stop staring, it’s just not worthy of the ugly label. If all else fails, raid your grandmother’s closet – just not this one. (the only Christmas sweater I ever allowed was pastel, aqua with a discreet white snowflake)
There’s room for everyone on the Ugly Sweater nice list. Go big or go home!