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The Evolution & Celebration of the Ugly Christmas Sweater

By Albulena Murturi


11 December 2023

ugly Christmas sweater

©️ Freepik

In recent years, the ugly Christmas sweater has become an iconic symbol of holiday festivities, transcending its humble beginnings as a quirky fashion choice. This article explores the evolution of the ugly Christmas sweater. We trace its roots from the 1950s to its resurgence in the early 2000s and its current status as a beloved holiday tradition.

The Birth of the Ugly Christmas Sweater

The first inklings of Christmas-themed sweaters emerged in the 1950s, initially known as “Jingle Bell Sweaters.” These early versions were more subdued compared to today’s flamboyant designs but hinted at the holiday’s increasing commercialization. Despite their initial lack of popularity, some television personalities like crooners Val Doonican and Andy Williams embraced the festive sweaters, paving the way for their eventual resurgence.

ugly Christmas sweater
©️ senivpetro / Freepik

The 1980s Resurgence

It wasn’t until the 1980s that the ugly Christmas sweater gained mainstream traction. Popularized by pop culture and comedic portrayals, characters like Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswold in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” turned these once-uncool sweaters into endearing expressions of holiday cheer. Snowflake patterns and reindeer motifs, once considered tacky, became staples at office parties and Christmas Day gatherings.

The 1990s Decline

However, the sweater’s popularity waned in the 1990s, relegated to the wardrobes of unfashionable older relatives. Movies like “Bridget Jones’s Diary” exemplified society’s disdain for these knitted abominations. We see Colin Firth’s character Mark Darcy wearing a cringe-worthy reindeer sweater. The ugly Christmas sweater seemed destined for the back of closets, perceived as a sartorial mishap.

The Early 2000s Revival

The early 2000s breathed new life into the ugly Christmas sweater phenomenon. Christmas sweater parties started gaining momentum, with the first documented event occurring in Vancouver in 2002. Brian Miller, founder of, credits this resurgence to a shift in perspective. Wearing the garment in a humorous way allowed people to appreciate the comic side of the sweaters. It transforms people from fashion faux pas to festive fun.

ugly Christmas sweater
©️ gencraft

The Sweater as a Holiday Tradition

Over the next decade, the ugly sweater evolved into a new holiday tradition. It became a democratic symbol, worn by everyone from children at school contests to office workers at end-of-year parties. Fast-fashion giants and high-end retailers alike started offering gaudy designs each holiday season, solidifying the sweater’s place in contemporary fashion. Celebrities, including Taylor Swift and Kanye West, embraced the trend, further propelling its popularity.

The Social Media Era

The rise of social media in the 21st century heightened the status of the ugly sweater. Instagram became a platform for showcasing Christmas sweater love, with individuals and companies alike participating in the trend. Mass retailers, fast-food chains, and high-end fashion houses all began offering their own versions of the beloved garment, contributing to its all-presence.

National Ugly Sweater Day

The culmination of the ugly sweater craze is National Ugly Sweater Day, observed every third Friday in December. This day allows people to fully embrace the holiday spirit by donning their most outlandish and festive sweaters. The tradition has grown beyond a single day, with holiday parties, gatherings, and office celebrations continuing the festive spirit throughout the entire month of December.

ugly Christmas sweater
©️ Freepik

Why Celebrate Ugly Sweater Day?

Beyond the flashy designs and bold patterns, the ugly sweater serves as a lighthearted way to bring joy and laughter to the holiday season. Whether it’s deflecting workplace stress, creating a sense of connection, or simply reminding us of the silly things that make us smile, the ugly sweater has become a cherished symbol of holiday cheer.

From its humble beginnings in the 1950s to its current status as a celebrated holiday tradition, the ugly Christmas sweater has undergone a remarkable transformation. What was once a fashion faux pas is now a symbol of festive fun. It unites people in the spirit of laughter and camaraderie during the holiday season. As National Ugly Sweater Day approaches, individuals of all ages and backgrounds eagerly anticipate the chance to showcase their most outrageous and endearing holiday knits. They ensure that the ugly sweater’s legacy continues to evolve with each passing year.

Do you own an ugly Christmas sweater? Or have you ever gifted one to someone just for fun?

You might also want to read: Our List of Best Feel-Good Movies for a Joyful Time

Albulena Murturi

An enthusiastic learner rediscovering the joy of writing.