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Holiday garment origins: Where does the ugly sweater come from?

Some people love it, others still hate it. Whatever the case, there is no doubt that the ugly sweater has become a popular garment during the festive season. But what is the origin of this themed sweater?

The holiday season is about tradition and spending time with your loved ones. In other cases, it has been known as the time when gifts are exchanged. Within these, one of the most common presents has been the ugly sweater (also known as ugly jumper or ugly Christmas sweater). 

Some people love it, others still hate it. Whatever the case, there is no doubt that the ugly sweater has become a popular garment during the festive season. But what is the origin of this themed sweater?

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The ugly sweater’s first appearance

[Image: TheUglySweaterShop]

It all started in the 1950s, when the Christmas-themed sweater began to make an appearance among society. During this decade, Christmas was being commercialized at a grand scale; thus, a mass production of these pullovers emerged. Initially, these jumpers were called “Jingle Bell Sweaters”, and their patterns were modest compared to the ones we’ve seen today. 

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The trend had a modest presence in the market as well as the media. Still, some celebrities wore these ugly sweaters, such as Val Doonican and Andy Williams. The late Doonican was seen wearing these jumpers during his ABC series, The Val Doonican Show

Becoming a trending and a humorous clothing

[Image: Warner Bros.]

The ugly sweater turned into a popular holiday item in the 1980s because of Bill Cosby and Chevy Chase. Cosby’s fictional character from The Cosby Show, Cliff Huxtable, choice of fashion was a wooly pullover with questionable color mixing and patterns. This turned the fallen American comedian into a modern-day pioneer of the trend and an ugly sweater icon. 

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Meanwhile, Chevy Chase's goofy dad, Clark Griswold, in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation transformed the holiday sweater into an unattractive yet cheerful and funny attire. Some have seen the film’s portrayal of this sweater as a mix of an ironic self-conscious style and a sincere fashion of the 80’s.  

However, the ugly sweater’s popularity disappeared in the 90s and was labeled as the unfashionable garment that "no one wanted to receive as a gift", since it would cause some eyebrow-raises and judging gazes if you were seen wearing the exaggeratedly patterned jumper.  

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The return of the ugly sweater 

[Image: Universal Pictures, Miramax]

In the beginning of the new millennium, the ugly sweater earned a new spot in pop culture and the fashion industry. According to the Ugly Christmas Sweater Party Book: The Definitive Guide to Getting Your Ugly On, people started to throw themed-parties regarding the ugly Christmas sweater around 2001, becoming a new trending and a type of anti-fashion statement.

The book’s authors claimed that the origins of the festive pullover’s parties trace back to Vancouver. It was in this Canadian city that Chris Boyd and Jordan Birch threw the first Christmas Sweater Party in 2002, an idea that spread across the world and would even be used for charity events.  

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“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’”, stated Brian Miller, one of the book’s authors and online shop founder of UglyChristmasSweaterParty.com, during a phone interview. 

In the meantime, the over-the-top holiday garment would return to the big screen thanks to Bridget Jones’s Diary. In the 2001’s film, we see the sweater’s cameo used as a traditional joke. During the scene, Colin Firth's Mark Darcy turns to greet Bridget (Renée Zellweger) at a family party wearing an unattractive knitted pullover with a giant red-nosed reindeer. 

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From then on, the popularity of the ugly sweater snowballed.

Ugly sweater, a holiday icon

[Image: @vancityreynolds]

In the following years, the ugly sweater rise in the fashion world. From being a mocked clothing, this festive pullover was redefined, hitting the runways of worldly known  haute couture brands. Acclaimed designers launched their own collection, such as Dolce & Gabbana, Givenchy, and Stella McCartney. 

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High-end retailers and fast-fashion also adopted this clothing. One could easily find these patterned pullovers in Nordstrom, Bloomingdales, and H&M, with a wide variety of options.  

Furthermore, celebrities jumped into the the ugly Christmas sweater tradition. Taylor Swift, Kanye West, and Shaquille O’Neal embraced the garment. Even Jimmy Fallon created a segment in his late night talk show, The 12 Days of Christmas Sweaters.

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Whether you’re a lover of this warm and comfy clothing, part of the team that’s against this trend, or perhaps it’s an indifferent jumper for you, it’s definitely clear that the ugly sweater is now a holiday icon.   

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