Ugly Christmas Sweater Parties

Ugly Christmas Sweater Parties

Americanism: Ugly Christmas Sweater

The “Ugly Christmas Sweater Party” has become ubiquitous in the United States in the past several years. What are these and when did they start?

The eighties were a decade of fashion excess, including their take on “Jingle Bell Sweaters,” which originally became popular in the 1950s. I recall my elementary school teachers wearing these festive, gaudy sweaters with oversize reindeer and snowmen complete with pom poms and jingle bells. I myself wore some sweatshirts that now make me cringe. These fashion choices mostly disappeared in the mid-1990s.

Fast-forward to the early 21st century; people must have found their aunt’s sweaters in the closet or stumbled upon them at a thrift store, but suddenly these were very funny. Two friends in Vancouver have laid claim to the first “Ugly Chrismas Sweater Party” in 2002, where it is still held each year in the Commodore Ballroom (they have even trademarked “ugly Christmas sweater” and “ugly Christmas sweater party”). I remember that the first Ugly Christmas Sweater party I organized at my house was in 2009, and my friends and I wore sweaters we had found at Goodwill. Nowadays, there is a huge market for newly produced “Ugly Sweaters,” although I think it misses the original point of ironic nostalgia for the 1980s fashion. I suspect that most of the ugly sweaters have been purchased by now and so it is necessary to produce new ones.

The goal of these parties is to all be awkwardly dressed together and celebrate the holiday season (Ugly Sweaters can be Hannukah-themed or winter-themed in general). Therefore, you will also hear them referred to as “Ugly Holiday Sweater Parties.”