A Brief History of the Ugly Christmas Sweater

The ugly Christmas sweater seems to have had its start in the 1980s, but it really picked up speed as a trend in the early 2000s.

Photo: Shutterstock

Ah, ‘tis the season: Lights on trees, snow on the ground, the smell of pine and balsam in the air, the sounds of jingling bells, and holiday mayhem at all the stores. But there’s one phenomenon that uniquely captures the winter holiday style, and that is the ugly Christmas sweater.

When did this phenomenon start, and why has it become as popular as it has?

According to an article in Time magazine, it all began with Bill Cosby in his self-titled 1980s sitcom. Cosby sported an array of hideous, tacky sweaters as part of his characteristic look. But ugly holiday sweaters—including sweaters for Halloween, Valentine’s Day and more—were an ‘80s phenomenon even before Cosby introduced ugly sweaters into America’s style lexicon.

Their popularity diminished in the 1990s, but beginning in 2001, there was a sudden increase in the number of ironic “ugly sweater parties” and their popularity has grown even more since then.

Now the ugly Christmas sweater is more popular than ever. Thrift stores like Goodwill, Value Village, and the Salvation Army get in on the fun by having entire racks dedicated to ugly holiday sweaters. Some thrift stores even have craft tables where you can make your ugly sweater even more hideous by adding an array of bling ranging from Christmas tree decorations to pompoms and craft store kitsch.

But even fashion shops and online retailers are getting in on the gauche holiday tops trend. Social media feeds feature advertisements selling ugly sweaters, and you can find them gracing the windows of Nordstrom, too!

People and workplaces have ugly Christmas sweater parties, some of which even involve contests, with prizes for those who sport the most hideously tacky garments.

The Time article concludes by stating that they think the ugly sweater is so popular because it “conjures up memories of home and childhood” and that it’s practical given the cold weather often seen in December in the northern hemisphere. They also think it helps people to de-stress during an ordinarily stressful season.

As for me, I just think they’re funny, and I’m looking forward to my employer’s ugly Christmas sweater-themed holiday party!

What do you think? Is the ugly Christmas sweater here to stay? Why do you think it’s so popular? Sound off in the comments!

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