So you've worn your best Christmas sweater to the office party, the family get together, the pub crawl, yet still you want more? If you're looking for another place to wear your most gaudy holiday tacky sweater, here's an idea - Ugly Sweater 5K! Nearly every major city and town will host one in 2016, and to get your started, here's a list of some of the big events! And Where to Buy Ugly Sweaters
WHEN did it first start, the moment when the holiday sweater morphed from seasonal horror to cultural touchstone, an article of outrageously bad knitwear as popular among Williamsburg beard farmers as the Metamucil set?
Was it when the Mistletoe Conspiracy caroled about the in a YouTube video? (“It’s ugly and it’s itchy, it’s frightening to children, Andy Williams wouldn’t touch it with a 10 foot pole.”) Was it when Ugly Sweater 5K runs became regular events, like those this fall in cities like Memphis, Chicago and Denver?
Was it when PBS began rebroadcasting the Andy Williams Christmas specials, showcasing the singer of “Moon River” and his weakness for knitwear with snowflake motifs? Was it when the multibillion-dollar Urban Outfitters got into the act, selling their own newly manufactured line of Ugly Christmas sweaters and a hardcover compendium of the worst of the worst, “Rock Your Ugly Christmas Sweater”?“There’s certainly a hipster trend contributing to it,” said Fred Hajjar, president of TV Store Online and UglyChristmasSweater. “The tackier the better, the more lights and bells and overall ugliness. You see celebrities like Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, Kanye West and Cee Lo Green caught in ugly Christmas sweaters, and it’s almost like, ‘Oh, no they didn’t.’ ”
Yes, they did.
Five years ago, a stay-at-home mom from a Vermont ski town decided to put her prehistoric computer-science degree to use, gaming Google trending algorithms to start a business.
“I was looking for something to sell on eBay to put my kids through college,” said Ann Marie Blackman, the owner of MyUglyChristmasSweater. “I did research on what was trending. Ugly Christmas sweaters were it.”
The first big hit from Ms. Blackman’s start-up was a sweater she created from mats sewed together and adorned with stitched-on plastic Christmas trees lighted from behind by winking bulbs.
“I sold a lot of them,” said Ms. Blackman, whose company now features multiple styles, many showcased in a new book, “Rock Your Ugly Christmas Sweater,” which she wrote with Brian Clark Howard.
The trend Ms. Blackman tapped into inspired a kind of ugly-sweater gold rush. Now, on e-commerce sites like Skedouche, UglyChristmasSweater, MyUglyChristmasSweater, ButtUglySweaters and Tipsy Elves, consumers can choose from motifs as tame as candy canes, birds in berry branches, mistletoe and happy kittens to raunchier themes like overexcited snowmen and randy reindeer threesomes.
“It isn’t your Christmas sweater from days gone by,” Ms. Blackman said.
Proof of that could be found in the sweaters by Ms. Blackman and others seen in an ugly-sweater fashion show on “The Ellen Show” last week. When the sweaters were admired by that morning’s guest, Christina Aguilera, a self-proclaimed “Christmas freak,” Ms. DeGeneres presented her with the wackiest one, a woolly mess with three-dimensional corkscrew pasties that terminated in a furry Santa face.
When Stacie Laufenburger, a demand planner for Moët Hennessy, began hosting Ugly Christmas Sweater parties three years ago, it was as an ironic tribute to the holiday sweaters she had received as a girl growing up in the Midwest.
“It was always your grandmother or aunt who gave you that crazy sweater that you looked at and you were like ... really?” Ms. Laufenburger said.
“You never got a receipt and anyway they were holiday based, so you couldn’t take them back,” she said. The challenge is much greater now to unearth the innocently kitschy sweaters of Ms. Laufenburger’s girlhood. Hipster pickers have scoured the thrift shops for the best of the worst and posted it all on eBay. Mainstream manufacturers like Coldwater Creek, Talbots, Quacker Factory and Berek long ago abandoned demented-elf clichés.
“We don’t do sweaters that have cats and Christmas trees,” said Jerome Jessup, chief creative officer of Coldwater Creek, where holiday sweaters account for a fraction of annual sales exceeding $1 billion. “We had some of that in our past, but we work diligently to create relevant holiday sweaters for the customer who’s 50, and that’s now how the 50-year-old wants to be presented today.”
Yet for Ms. Laufenburger, 36, a tasteful Nordic cable-knit sweater in a rich holiday color doesn’t stand a chance when pitted against a knitted red cardigan covered with giant, sequin embroidered felt teddy bears. She wore that one last week to the Ugly Christmas Sweater party and pub crawl.
Her husband’s sweater was, she said, even more “heinous,” a black knit embroidered with a bronze, green and silver gift package and a plump teddy bear.
“It had the same teddy bear embroidered on the back, but it was the bear’s backside,” she said. “It actually came like that.”
As with seasonal events like Santacon, the multicity gathering and pub crawl in which people dress up in Santa costumes, Ugly Christmas Sweater parties develop stealthily, virally and mainly on the Web. “If you look online, the parties are everywhere,”’ said Mr. Hajjar of UglyChristmasSweater. “Once that started to come in, everyone wanted to one-up and it got harder and harder to find a real ’80s or ’90s look that’s over-the-top.”
Over the top is the baseline of designs from Mr. Hajjar’s company, whose best seller this season is a cardigan vest covered with light-up wreaths.
At the San Diego-based Tipsy Elves, the sweater of the season features a pair of what, for the sake of politeness, we’ll call amorous reindeer. “Two things people are going to try to do is to go extremely tacky or very funny,” in designing ugly Christmas sweaters, said Evan Mendelsohn, a founder of Tipsy Elves. “We’re more funny than tacky.”
Trained as a lawyer, Mr. Mendelsohn quit his job last year to found Tipsy Elves with Nick Morton, a college friend who helped raise a modest grubstake for a Christmas sweater company with no distribution network and no design staff. In its first season Tipsy Elves sold over 1,000 sweaters. It has already sold 14,000 this season and is nearing $1 million in sales, Mr. Mendelsohn said.
“Our best sellers are the racier ones,” he added, citing the design featuring two reindeer with one back. A bucktoothed parody of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is also a big seller as is a sweater depicting yellow snow.
“Christmas, in some senses, is so serious, and for the younger generation, it’s a chance to make light of it and lessen the heaviness of it as a religious holiday,” Mr. Mendelsohn said. “For a little older age group, it’s probably the one appropriate time to dress up in costume that isn’t Halloween.”
That was probably true, even in the days of Andy Williams’s Christmas specials, where not only the crooner but his pretty wife, Claudine Longet, and his guest stars wore clothes that drove home the seasonal thematic with angora snowmen, zigzag tree shapes and sequined Christmas ornaments.
For Stephen Skalocky, 28, a Manhattan art director, the big surprise when he first began holding Ugly Christmas Sweater parties five years back came when he saw how eager ordinarily blasé New Yorkers were to get in on the theme. “People who you would never expect to get on board for a themed party usually do,” he said.
Despite wet weather this year, Mr. Skalocky’s party and pub crawl, held the first weekend in December, drew 40 or so friends dressed in poinsettia-covered pullovers, holly sprigged cardigans or twin-sets ornamented with macramé Christmas trees.
The lucky ones were able to borrow the real stuff from mothers or grandmothers. The rest were forced to rely on various Web sites as well as eBay, where vintage holiday sweaters can be had, though at prices destined to give Aunt Mabel pause.
“Kmart has a pretty good line that definitely fits under the category of ugly Christmas sweater,” said Mr. Skalocky, who once donated one of his mother’s ugly Christmas sweaters to a thrift shop, only to buy the same one back two years later from the same store.
“The year my sweater was pretty simple, candy canes and snowmen,” he said. His girlfriend’s sweater, borrowed from grandmother’s closet, featured a drummer boy edged with holly garlands, berries and bells. It was, Mr. Skalocky pointed out, a beauty. “Real classic, cheesy holiday imagery.”