What you need to know about ugly Christmas sweaters

ByAlex Meier WABC logo
Friday, December 13, 2019
What you need to know about ugly sweaters
We have everything you need to know to dress to unimpress at your holiday parties.

Chances are, the first person you saw in an ugly Christmas sweater wasn't wearing it in the spirit festive irony.

Chances are, this person was your great aunt or your 2nd-grade teacher who sported those sequined Christmas trees and embroidered snowflakes with pride and distinction.

Flash forward to now, and look how far these sweaters have come. Just Google "Ugly Christmas Sweater," and you'll find listings from top retailers like Nordstrom, Target, and Forever 21.

In a sea of hideous holiday garments, how do you find the one that's right for you? Maybe you need to look for your great aunt for inspiration.


The original ugly Christmas sweaters were never intended to be ugly. In fact, they were "really an art in a way," said Asta Skocir, an associate professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

That's because in 80s and 90s, designers hand-knitted one-of-a-kind sweaters. For years, they were culturally adored, made especially popular by their ubiquity on television sitcoms.

Skocir herself designed several holiday sweaters using Christmas cards as inspiration.

"Were they attractive? No, but people bought them and loved them," Skocir said.

The internet helped shape the ugly sweater trend as we know it today. Young people started buying these vintage knits on eBay, and soon enough, friends competed with another to find the ugliest sweaters online. Social media gave the trend a huge boost, and this ugliness competition suddenly had global reach.

Now, big retailers have jumped on board, mass-producing sweaters that prioritize cost efficiency over authenticity.

So if you want to get your hands on a unique and outrageous sweater, you have to head to a vintage shop, like the West Village's Rags-A-Gogo.

Owner Joshua Susanne said the store has at least 300 ugly Christmas sweaters, all for $28. Her motto: Whatever you pick, make it fun.


- GO VINTAGE: Many Christmas sweaters made in the 80s and 90s were hand-knitted, so chances are the holiday garments at your local vintage shop are one-of-a-kind.

- ADD FLAIR: Personalize your sweater by adding some flair! The Tipsy Elves recommend "anything from pom-poms, bows, and sequins, to straight up ornaments and garland hanging from the sleeves."

- GET WEIRD: A cyclops Christmas cat? Sure! Ambiguous oval that might be Baby Jesus? Why not!

This story was originally published in 2016.