One holiday tradition has people scouring used clothing stores and online sources to find the perfect ugly Christmas sweater.
The cultural phenomenon of the ugly Christmas sweater begs a question for those unfamiliar with the trend – what can possibly be the appeal of an ugly sweater?
Chisa Iwuagwu, owner of the Burbank-based Shop Ugly Sweaters, clued us in.
“It started out as a kind of countercultural thing,” Iwuagwu said. “Back in the day, there used to be so much pressure to have the fancy, formal, kind of stuffy office party. Ugly sweaters became a fun and ironic way to break the ice. It’s like Halloween.”
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At ugly Christmas sweater parties, there’s a whole other dimension to social interaction at play. People talk and interact with each other, trading secrets about how they secured their uniquely tacky sweater.
Iwuagwu said she noticed an uptick in demand for ugly sweaters a couple of years ago. What was once a countercultural phenomenon turned into a holiday staple, with even larger retailers like Target and Forever 21 mass-producing ugly sweaters.
Ugly sweaters have also become a way for people to make pop culture references.
“The ugly sweater party has expanded to include ugly hats, ugly trees, anything you can think of,” Iwuagwu said. “People are not only taking that awful sweater they got one Christmas and wearing it as a joke, they’re getting completely decked out from head to toe.”
Now the goal has changed to have the most garish, most eye-catching get-up out there.
“People are adding lights, bells, stuffed animals, 3-D, fur, you name it,” Iwuagwu said.
She added, “There are even people who want to pick up on the raunchier, cheekier side of things. Inappropriate animal behavior, for example. Where you take a second look at that sweater you thought was the one your grandma gave you when you were 8, but it’s not at all.”
The options are endless, though heavy competition to secure the most authentic, most tacky holiday sweater has thinned the supply at secondhand stores like Goodwill and consignment shops.
“Unless you maybe get there earlier, people are buying them up immediately from Goodwill. If you want a vintage ’80s sweater that was truly made to be a beautiful festive sweater, no irony at all, you might go and search, but shoppers are typically frustrated,” Iwuagwu said.
Iwuagwu saw a business opportunity and in 2011 opened her own website, ShopUglySweaters.com.
Her store offers new and vintage ugly Christmas sweaters. Iwuagwu even sells light-up menorah sweaters.
For some guidelines on how to organize the best ugly Christmas sweater party this holiday season, consider hosting a competition with prizes to encourage your guests to step up their game. You might want to have prizes for various categories: best homemade sweater, the funniest, ugliest, cutest sweater.
Iwuagwu suggests that hosts of ugly sweater parties decorate with as much tackiness as possible.
“You can’t have fancy champagne glasses out with your ugly sweater party. You gotta go with the theme. You can even put your wine bottles in a sweater holder. It’s best to stick to tacky and gaudy Christmas decorations available at all kinds of holiday or party stores,” Iwuagwu said.
As for Iwuagwu’s advice about making your own sweater at home, she suggested that you start with good basics.
“Find a good 1980s, Cosby-style sweater, maybe with some pleather patches or some plaid,” she said. “Not just red or green. You’ve really got to get something that’s already got flamingos or weird patterns or something off, and then you add the festive things.”
With a hot-glue gun, a sewing kit, or even just safety pins, even a novice can make an excellent ugly sweater.
Some ideas include taking a classic Christmas sweater and adding a stuffed animal’s head in the front, maybe with the tail coming out from the back. You can add battery-powered string lights. Visit your local craft or dollar store and pick up pompoms, Christmas ornaments, puff paint, cotton balls, whatever you want. The sky is the limit.
Your party can even include an ugly-sweater-making station.
“Ugly sweaters take some of the pressure off of what can be for some people a stressful and somewhat lonely time. The sweaters ease some of that, and make the holiday season more fun,” Iwuagwu said.