‘Ugly’ Christ­mas sweaters get­ting sec­ond looks

Par­ties, con­tests cen­ter­ing on tacky hol­i­day garb are the lat­est trend.

Austin American-Statesman - - HEALTHY LIVING - By Cyn­thia Hu­bert Sacra­mento bee

A hol­i­day sweater dec­o­rated with danc­ing snow­men in ski hats rarely has qual­i­fied as high fash­ion. But never have such fes­tive frocks been so joy­fully and openly ridiculed as they are to­day.

Across the na­tion, “Ugly Christ­mas Sweater” par­ties and con­tests are all the rage, and the louder and tack­ier the gar­ment, the bet­ter.

The trend has given birth to a cot­tage in­dus­try of stores, blogs and books, and has been a bo­nanza for shops that sell vin­tage cloth­ing.

“Ev­ery year, it gets big­ger and big­ger and seems to start ear­lier,” said Lorena Maxim, a sales as­so­ciate at Thrift Town on El Camino Av­enue in Sacra­mento, Calif. “Peo­ple started ask­ing about them around La­bor Day this year, be­cause they know we sell out so quickly.”

De­mand for vin­tage hol­i­day sweaters dec­o­rated with im­ages of rak­ish San­tas and teddy bear sol­diers and cute fluffy an­i­mals peek­ing out of Christ­mas stock­ings has been so brisk that Thrift Town is of­fer­ing cus­tomers $5 to re­turn their “ugly sweaters” af­ter their par­ties are over.

“Ugly Christ­mas sweaters are big busi­ness for us as of the past few years,” said Thrift Town spokes­woman Gina Doglione-Nielsen. “They tend to fly out of our stores as soon as our crews put them out on the floor.”

Sales of the items have in­creased “10 per­cent year by year,” she said. Last year, Thrift Town launched an on­line Ugly Sweater Con­test, with a $250 prize for the top en­try.

The hol­i­day sweater racks were nearly bare late last week at the Sacra­mento SPCA’s thrift shop on E Street, leav­ing cus­tomers angling for sub­sti­tutes.

“They’re sell­ing like hot­cakes,” said clerk Cindy Tay­lor. “We’ve just about run out of sweaters, so peo­ple are go­ing for sweat­shirts and T-shirts and dec­o­rat­ing them with or­na­ments and all kinds of things.”

The goal is to snag the award for “ugli­est sweater.” At many par­ties, that means not just the gar­ish, wo­ven im­ages of elves, candy canes and po­lar bears but also dan­gling or­na­ments and elec­tronic ac­cou­trements such as flash­ing

“This sweater thing has hit all the way with ev­ery­one, no mat­ter the eth­nic­ity, the age group, the back­ground.” Lorena Maxim, Thrift Town

Christ­mas lights, blink­ing rein­deer snouts and even sewn-in iPads play­ing a video of a cozy fire.

Two men in Van­cou­ver, Canada, claim to have hosted the world’s first Ugly Sweater Party in 2002. The pair, Chris Boyd and Jor­dan Birch, hold an an­nual hol­i­day bash at the pres­ti­gious Com­modore Ho­tel, and have trade­marked the phrases “ugly Christ­mas sweater” and “ugly Christ­mas sweater party” in Canada.

Now, peo­ple from New York to Los An­ge­les are host­ing sweater-themed events, and schools and busi­nesses are hold­ing “Ugly Sweater Days.”

“This sweater thing has hit all the way with ev­ery­one, no mat­ter the eth­nic­ity, the age group, the back­ground,” said Maxim of Thrift Town. “We have busi­ness­men coming in, we have teach­ers, we have of­fice groups look­ing for them and do­ing the cra­zi­est things with them.”

Of course, not ev­ery­one thinks that fuzzy hol­i­day sweaters in bright red and green are ugly. Un­doubt­edly, the gar­ments were de­signed to be per­ceived as at­trac­tive, said Robert Thompson, pro­fes­sor of pop­u­lar cul­ture at Syra­cuse Univer­sity. But taste, and fash­ion, have evolved.

“Clothes have al­ways been a can­vas to ex­press all kinds of things, and I’m sure there are still many peo­ple out there who wear th­ese wild sweaters be­cause they think they are pretty,” said Thompson.

Even those who hold up the gar­ments as hideous, Thompson said, may un­wit­tingly be re­spond­ing to a sense of nos­tal­gia and fond mem­o­ries of child­hood.

“They’re wear­ing them with a deep sense of irony,” said Thompson. “It’s sort of a tongue-incheek, pink flamingo sort of thing. They’re mak­ing fun.

“At the same time, there is some­thing beau­ti­ful about wear­ing a really ob­vi­ously themed Christ­mas sweater. Most peo­ple, at some point in their lives, have owned some­thing with snowflakes on it, or had a teacher who came to school decked out in out­ra­geous sweaters be­cause the kids loved them. They have fond mem­o­ries of that.”

Thompson him­self has a soft spot for hol­i­day sweaters.

Walking the win­ter streets in New York, “I’ll see hun­dreds of peo­ple in black sweaters and ig­nore them,” he said. “But when I see some­one wear­ing a sweater with a rein­deer pulling a sleigh, I’ll take a look. That’s much more in­ter­est­ing.”

CONTRIBUTED by THRIFT TOWN

Fred Mon­tana models an ugly sweater. “We had a lot of fun with this one and it only cost $7.99” at Thrift Town in Rich­land, said his grand­mother, Mary John­son of nearby Hal­tom City.

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