Just about everyone has an ugly Christmas sweater. Whether it is a tacky red and green one with felt Christmas lights, or a dark blue one with white snowflakes, the ugly Christmas sweater is a staple of the holiday wardrobe. This ubiquity begs the question:: where did these sweaters come from? Sure, the sweaters have been around since the 18th century, but can you say for sure when the gaudy jingle bell sweater came into existence?
I wish I could give you a definite answer, but in truth, no one is fully sure what started the mass production of the ugly Christmas sweaters, as an original “Christmas Sweater” would have been a handmade gift created and given by an older family member. But despite the blurred origins, there are multiple theories. What we do know is that the original trend began to develop in the 80s, as late night television show hosts would dawn them during Holiday specials. But unlike today, the sweaters were not worn ironically. In fact, those who originally worn the hefty and bright sweaters did so in complete seriousness.
Although he may be a controversial icon in the news, Bill Cosby does have some credit in popularizing the sweater. This led to the term “Cosby Sweater.” However, Cosby was not responsible for his wardrobe. In fact, fashion designer Koos Van Der Akken, famous for his collaged garments, deserves the credit. Soon after Cosby, Christmas sweaters were mass produced under the name “jingle bell sweaters.” These became popular in the mid-80s, but were never worn in the ironic fashion that we enjoy today.
In the early 90s, the sweater’s popularity waned, but sometimes, one of these atrocities would be given as a gag gift. But by the late 90s, the Christmas sweater had become phased out.
However, in 2002, the Christmas Sweater the Canadians revitalized in the way we know it today. In a bizarre attempt to mock their parents who would have dawned the tacky sweater, a group in Vancouver threw the first “Ugly Christmas Sweater Party.” In fact, the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver continues to throw an annual party to remember this occasion, and even has a copyright on the word “Ugly Christmas sweater” in Canada. Yet, this was a semi-isolated occurrence.
The real trend of the Ugly Christmas sweater really has appeared in the recent decade. In 2010 alone, search traffic for “Ugly Christmas Sweater” was up by 30%, the Wall Street Journal declared them as the “hottest fashion trend,” and retailers began to restock their outdated winter wear in hopes of being ironic enough to breach into the ugly. The trend evolved past a fad and developed into a corporate vision. Now, in 2015 and beyond, companies from Walmart to Abercrombie mass produce these sweaters in hoping to cash in on the Holiday Spirit. And as of now, the trend has continued to snowball, with variations and parodies a plenty.
From its rather blurry origins, to its almost frightening future, the Ugly Christmas sweater has become an icon of the Christmas season. There will always be Christmas, and there may always be the ugly Christmas sweater. How will our children mock us?