The ugly sweater party. We’ve all heard of them even if we haven’t been to one ourselves. The darn things are uncomfortable, way too hot, and itchy, so how in the world did we start actually wanting them? When I was a kid, they were always a bad punchline in Christmas movies. Aunt Edna or Grandma Lou had sent some homemade woolen terror with love in every stitch. When and where did the Christmas punishment from our childhood become kind of fashionable?

Where the party started

Rumor has it the ugly sweater party was a Canadian trend from the early 2000s. The very first party was held by our neighbor to the north in ’02 in Vancouver, BC. It was thrown by a couple of guys just trying to mess around by making everyone wear something cheesy and outrageous. They hadn’t meant to start anything when they set the dress code. No one could have predicted that irony would influence fashion twenty or thirty years ago or that “ugly” clothing would genuinely be considered trendy.

Humble beginnings

It’s no secret that irony and nostalgia are both really popular. Anything from the 90’s is sure to tap a special place in the heart of older Gen Z’ers or younger Millennials. As a relic from 80’s and 90’s sitcoms, chunky sweaters scratch that nostalgic itch we 20-somethings don’t always realize we have. They’re easy to recognize with their zany patterns and worn by most TV dads from our childhoods. Even movies like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and The Santa Claus (we stan Neil in this house, he was just trying his best) featured the less festive relatives of our ho ho horrible garments. 

I can’t say for sure why this specific trend began, maybe it was just dumb luck, or maybe it was a perfect storm of the rise of irony and nostalgia sprinkled with a little bit of love for things that don’t take themselves too seriously. Market saturation can help too.

From your grandfather’s closet to Haute Couture

Availability means everyone can get in on it, and brands jumped at the chance to create their special versions of the ugly Christmas sweater. 

No more digging through thrift shops or raiding the closets of the elderly. If you’ve got a mountain of cash to burn, you can even purchase your very own Dolce & Gabanna ugly Christmas sweater, starting at around $1,500.00 USD! (The mysteries of high fashion will never make sense to me). If you don’t have a near literal ton of cash you want to get rid of, you can also try looking for some sports branded apparel for a much smaller sum. I hear the Portland Trailblazers have their jumpers going for a much more reasonable $80.

At the end of the day, yes, they’re ugly, but it’s also become really fun to see who can be the silliest and most ridiculous. 

If you haven’t seen it, there’s a photo floating around the internet where a teenager won his work’s ugly sweater contest by simply taping a mirror to his chest and letting the judge (his boss) lean in to take a close look at what made his sweater so ugly. (I wouldn’t recommend this unless your boss is like really cool). 

Inspiration, creativity, and humor all make ugly sweaters a lot more interesting than they used to be. The effort people put into finding the right one or even making their own is well worth sifting through the generically bad ones. They’ve become kind of an inside joke pretty much everyone can have a good laugh at.

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