If it weren't 2020, there's a good chance the beginning of December would have found you at your local secondhand store, browsing racks upon racks of hideous-yet-charming sweaters of all shapes and sizes with one thing in common: they're red, green and festive all over. That's the ugly Christmas sweater for you -- a thing that was once seen as gaudy, now known as a theme for parties where it's understood that the uglier, the better.
The history of the ugly Christmas sweater is short but distinguished, having only been around since the 1950s. Originally called a "jingle bell sweater," they've gained popularity thanks to TV personalities and singers like Val Doonican and Andy Williams.
The trend pretty much stayed as such for a while -- only being worn by people famous enough to get away with it -- until the '80s. Namely, until the release of "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" in 1989. Thanks to Clark Griswold, aggressively festive sweaters that are so ugly they're cute became not only a fashion statement reserved for clueless dads, but an expression of yuletide cheer.
The trend faded again when the '90s came around (everyone was too busy applying body glitter and buying low rise jeans, obviously), but by the new millennium, it was here to stay. Enter: "Bridget Jones's Diary." Dear, sweet Colin Firth turns to greet Bridget at the family's turkey curry buffet and there it is, in all its glory: a totally un-ironic, ugly Reindeer sweater. Sure, Bridget was horrified when she saw it. But personally, I think this may have been the exact moment I fell in love with one Mark Darcy. <3
And things snowballed from there. So began the Ugly Christmas Sweater Party (the first of which was documented in British Columbia in 2002) and not long after, mainstream clothing stores began dedicating entire sections to the sweaters around the holidays.
"It's hard to say what triggered the change in perspective, but I think that the moment someone wore the garment in a humorous way, people started seeing the comic side of it, and thinking 'This thing at the back of the closet could be fun, instead of something awful that nobody wants,'" Brian Miller, one author of "Ugly Christmas Sweater Party Book: The Definitive Guide to Getting Your Ugly On," told CNN.
"It became our generation's mistletoe, which is pretty remarkable, when you think about it."
By the 2010s, the trends we know today of ugly Christmas sweater bar crawls, runs and specialty stores were in full effect.
The moral of the story? People love to make "ugly" into fashion. The gaudier, the better -- bonus points if it jingles, lights up or sings.
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