A Brief History of the Ugly Christmas Sweater – A Tale From Xmas Past

December 05, 2022

A Brief History of the Ugly Christmas Sweater – A Tale From Xmas Past

The “ugly Christmas sweater” has become an annual tradition for many people. But when did it all begin?

Though Ugly Christmas sweaters have been a holiday season feature for decades, the trend of intentionally wearing ugly sweaters to holiday parties is relatively new.

Today, ugly Christmas sweaters are worn proudly by people of all ages. They're a fun and festive way to show your holiday good spirits and throwback to more innocent times when poor aesthetic judgments were the norm.

How It All Began: The Jingle Bell Ugly Christmas Sweater

50s Ugly Christmas Sweater

Nobody knows who invented the first ugly Christmas sweater. But we can pinpoint the origin of Christmas-themed apparel to the 1950s, the decade of economic boom and prosperity in America.

Big retailer catalogs started showing harmless, regular sweaters displaying festive motifs with the original intention of being worn by fashionable people. Dubbed “jingle bell sweaters,” these comfy-looking garments were decorated with Christmas and winter-related patterns such as snowflakes, reindeer, candy canes, and Christmas trees.

Teens loved them, and the designs were pretty cool, making Christmas-themed sweaters a staple of the festive season.

Like any commercial product, alternative cheaper and homemade versions followed suit, and the fashionable designs became kitsch. Since kitsch is oblivious to fashion, the Jingle Bell sweaters started to look, well, a bit ugly.

Because the first ugly Xmas sweaters still took themselves too seriously, they weren’t fun… Yet.

Fast-forward to the 1980s: Ugly Christmas Sweaters Hit the Small Screen

Griswold's Illumination Ugly Sweater

It seems Christmas wasn’t celebrated so intensely in the 1960s and the 1970s, so we had to wait for the 1980s to see ugly Christmas sweatshirts in the wild again.

TV was at the center of human homes. The holiday season became more commercialized, with highly elaborate adverts competing for attention, making the Christmas spirit loud and strong everywhere.

Kitsch took the opportunity and came back with a vengeance. Family sitcoms started showing their fictional dads with over-the-top Christmas sweaters, setting the trend for real dads looking to be as good. Comedies like National Lampoon or A Christmas Story also impacted the big screen.

Ugly Christmas sweaters became oversized and loud, with patterns that could induce more sensible family members into a mild hypnotic trance during Christmas Eve dinner, caught in a daze between “can't stop looking” and “can't look anymore.”

But this was more than a gratuitous aesthetic shock. It was a reaction to the increasingly popular “preppy” clothing style. People were looking for something more unique and festive, so they began wearing sweaters with bright colors and Christmas-themed motifs.

The sweaters from the 80s were typically homemade, often featuring a mix of colorful fabrics, garish decorations, and festive holiday designs.

Though created with good intentions, family Christmas portraits from that era still cause a mixed effect of shock, nausea, and cringe. Sweaters were so wild we hardly even noticed the hairstyles.

The Ugly Christmas Sweater Goes Mainstream

Ho^3 Ugly Sweater

The 1990s weren’t a great decade for camp Christmas devotees, as all sweaters were pretty ugly back then. But the 2000s made the ugly Christmas sweater an official season item.

It all started in Vancouver when Chris Boyd and Jordan Birch wanted to throw a Christmas party that was “cheesy, feel good, and festive!”. So, they organized an Ugly Christmas sweater party in 2002, starting a somewhat questionable tradition.

Well, we can’t argue with its merit: the party also became a benefit to raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Canada. This organization grants wishes for children with life-threatening illnesses.

Ugly Christmas sweater parties spread faster than Santa could laugh at the third “Ho!”. As millions browsed vintage shops, thrift stores, and department stores, holiday-themed sweaters were in demand. The bigger the eyesore, the better.

The trend grew in popularity over the next decade, and people started hosting parties where everyone was encouraged to wear the most outrageous Christmas sweaters they could find.

It really took off when celebrities like Justin Timberlake and Ellen DeGeneres jumped on board and hosted their own ugly Christmas sweater parties in a different type of Star Wars: the capacity to sustain embarrassment was strong in those two.

Soon, stores began to offer kitschy sweaters for sale, and the ugly Christmas sweater became an icon of this festive season as big as snowmen, pine trees, and Christmas lights.

Christmas Sweaters as a Fashion Statement: From Tacky to Trendy, From Fad to National Day

Ugly Sweater

In the 2010s, fashion designers embraced the trend and started designing and releasing their own high-end ugly sweaters. Givenchy and Dolce & Gabbana created their own versions of the ugly Christmas sweater, legitimizing their fashion value lost since the 1950s.

The phenomenon got so big, it was even featured ina dedicated article in Time magazine. But, more importantly,it got its own holiday.

Since 2011,every third Friday of December has been National Ugly Sweater Day and has grown to be an international event.

Today, the ugly Christmas sweater is worn proudly by people of all ages worldwide during the holiday season.

Office Christmas parties, college parties, and family holiday gatherings are the best places to sport an ugly Christmas sweater. And sport is the right verb, as there are even ugly sweater contests to elect the most appalling. Yes, not “appealing.”

Ugly Christmas Sweaters in the Age of Social Media

Christmas Ugly Sweater

Ugly Christmas sweaters are a tongue-in-cheek way to show off the holiday spirit. And where can you show it to a broader audience? Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest will be flooded with the best ugliest sweaters.

If you want to excel on #UglyChristmasSweaterDay, we have some sweet sweater ideas for your custom ugly sweater.

Pop culture is always a great theme, and in the superhero age, DC Comics characters with season accessories are something worth looking into. Batman and Joker under the mistletoe? Stranger Things have happened.

Or go for the punchline with a Star Wars reference: “Merry the Force be With You.” It's lame, we know it, but that’s the point! If you want magic, talk to Harry Potter.

It’s all about partying, so you can feature some tipsy elves before getting tipsy yourself. Go gaudy garland, embellish to a baroque level. Decorate with bright, clashing colors and 8-bit resolution patterns.

Hey, go the extra mile and add shoulder pads for some 80s power.

And follow these tips onhow to throw a funny ugly Christmas sweater party. Santa Claus may put you on the “naughty” list, though.

But, Why?


While some question this trend as going on the verge of unhealthy obsession, others embrace it for what it really is.

Ugly sweatshirts are not an ironic statement nor a joke about the sweaters made by our aunts and grandmas with so much care and dedication. Or by other people’s relatives, for that matter. They knew these sweaters were meant to be used only once a year, probably for just one year.

Ugly Christmas sweaters allow adults to dress up in silly clothing. What better way to embody that than a silly sweater? And what about their function as an icebreaker in difficult family reunions?

It’s also a way to relive some of those childhood magic memories of holidays gone past when auntie and grandma were still with us on Christmas Eve. Or Dad, sporting his own cubist version of a psychedelic Christmas gone wild, an image that still comes up in our therapy sessions.

Nostalgia and silliness. There is no better “why.”

And they're also great for promoting a funny Christmas mood at the office holiday party. The sweater dress code could beThe Office-themed for meta effect.  

Not Ugly: Memorable!

Christmas Ugly Sweaters

We don’t want to be derisive and call a piece of apparel we love so much “ugly.” If it brings you joy and laughter, who cares if it hurts the eye a bit? We should call them “catalysts of fun memories.” Ugly will have to do for marketing purposes.

They’re great as Christmas gifts, for Secret Santa, or as the final test of your crush's sense of humor. If you can’t laugh together, it won’t last forever.

They are a fun gift to pass down to the generations. Maybe the next one won’t get it. We bet your descendants will look proudly at their grandparent's or Great-grandparents' social media memories while wearing the same sweater you’ll wear this Christmas. Or an NFT version.

While they’re still available in thrift stores and vintage shops, you don’t have to dig through the crates for your own version of the ugly sweater. We have loads of ugly holiday sweaters… just in time for ugly sweater day.

Skip the “cheap ugly Christmas sweater Amazon” search – we’ve got something better for all your holiday parties. Find a vast assortment of ugly Christmas sweater men and ugly Christmas sweater women's atFamous in Real Life.

Check out our range of ugly sweatshirts. Whether you’re looking for a classic vintage piece or a modern twist on the trend, we have something for everyone for any kind of Christmas ugly sweater party.

From classic ugly sweaters featuring traditional holiday designs to modern takes on the trend, featuring popular pop culture characters, movie quotes, Christmas characters, and questionable humorous punchlines.

Ugly Christmas sweaters have become an integral part of the holiday season and are the perfect way to show your holiday spirit in a fun and festive way.

So go ahead, embrace your inner holiday cheer, and don your favorite ugly Christmas sweater this holiday season. Merry Christmas.


Christmas Collection

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