History of the Trend: Holiday Sweaters

How did this holiday craze first start? Here’s everything you need to know.

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Christmas sweaters

There are some holiday traditions that will always remain. Cookie baking with your grandma. Watching old movies with your family on a winter’s night. Caroling with friends from your residence hall. The list goes on, but there is one more recent, “trendy” tradition that holds a special, yet silly, place in my heart. I’m talking about the Ugly Sweater Party.

This event gives us college kids just one more reason to be goofy around finals, head off to Goodwill or Value World, and pick up the gaudiest, shiniest, most awesome sweater we can get. My sweater from last year was sky blue and covered in penguins having a snowball fight – priceless!

{RELATED POST: How to Wear an Ugly Christmas Sweater (Outfit Ideas!)}

Planning for this year’s soiree got me thinking, “How did this all start?” Did someone just decide one day that two reindeer frolicking through the snow on an oversized sweater would be the ultimate fashion statement? I didn’t know, but was ready to find out. Read on to learn more about the history of the holiday sweater.

History of Holiday Sweaters

  • It’s difficult to say where the holiday sweater, and the parties associated with it, began. As one columnist for Chicago Tribune notes, “It’s not like you can open any number of scholarly dissertations on fashion and find an entry for ‘people who deliberately want to look like absurd members of the Family Kringle’ or footnotes for ‘women who knit too much.'” Though believe me, I tried. What I found instead were little facts hidden beneath people’s odes and rants to the holiday sweater, which I have compiled for your enjoyment.
  • Writer Nikki Lackowski wrote for the Marina Del Rey Patch, “Few garments have been exposed to as much scorn, yet remained such a popular tradition.” As to the sweater’s origin, she states that there are “knitting patterns of snowy pines dating back to the 1950s,” and that fact, coupled with the continued commercialization of Christmas at that time, makes it a safe bet that the sweaters have been around since then.
  • As sweaters became more bedecked, bedazzled, and blinding, some decided to celebrate the tackiness. The first reported ugly sweater party is said to have taken place in Vancouver in the early 2000s, thrown by Chris Boyd and Jordan Birch. The party that started it all is now an annual event that continues to attract huge crowds. The creators are thrilled, and note that they consider themselves the official trendsetters. ”We have always claimed to be the first, and even trademarked ‘ugly Christmas sweater’ and ‘ugly Christmas sweater party’ here in Canada,” Boyd said in an interview.
  • Another group of gentleman inspired by the holiday sweater launched a website in 2007 entitled uglychristmassweaterparty.com. Founders Brian Miller, Adam Paulson and Kevin Wool have been gathering sweaters since the trend really took off and have been selling them online. In November of this year, they even published a book on the subject, which tells readers everything they need to know about throwing their own sweater party. The book also includes plenty of photos of some of the worst sweaters they’ve seen.
  • Others have watched the holiday sweater trend grow more popular each season and have decided to cash in. ABC News interviewed Nancy Schloetel of Mountlake Terrace, Wash., who started her ugly sweater business, Notyouraveragesweater.com, last winter. The article said she had purchased about 360 sweaters this season and had sold half so far. Her sweaters can go for up to $40, particularly if she makes “design enhancements,” such as battery-powered lights.
  • Inspired? This website allows you to design your own holiday sweater and share it with Facebook friends and Twitter followers!

Why We Still Love This Trend

Ugly Christmas sweater outfit

This trend may come but once a year, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give it its proper due. Here are three reasons to love your holiday sweater and all the festivities surrounding it:

  • The thrill of the hunt. There’s a certain exhilaration that comes with the purchase of a holiday sweater. Sure, there’s the obvious fashion element, but before you reach that point, there’s the mad dash to the store, a quick survey of available items, and the lightning-fast grab of the perfect garment. Bonus points if you can get the cheapest sweater with the most bling. Also, remember to look through the entire stock, as there are always hidden gems that make the search (and eventual victory) even better!
  • The conversation kick starter. Here’s an easy way to make new friends: Wearing your holiday sweater out and about on a regular day gives you a multitude of benefits. Not only are you festively dressed and toasty warm, but you’ll have a quick conversation piece for anyone you happen to meet!
  • Instant holiday cheer. Feeling blue? Despite popular belief, this is not always the happiest time of year. While there are plenty of ways to get you out of your funk, I find that dressing up a little always makes me feel better. To that end, get together with some friends and watch some of your favorite movies in your holiday sweaters. You’ll be laughing in no time!


Have you worn a holiday sweater? What do you think of this trend? What’s the most horrendous/cute/sparkly/hilarious sweater you’ve ever seen? Got any great stories featuring a holiday sweater? Leave a comment and let’s chat!

5 thoughts on “History of the Trend: Holiday Sweaters”

  1. Oh, gosh, holiday sweaters. I get the ugliest ones, which I proudly show off whenever someone throws an ugly sweater Christmas party.

  2. You can’t take holiday sweaters too seriously, but they’re a good excuse for lots of sparkle!! Thanks for another fun post, Rachel.

  3. I seriously need to get one of these. I love cozy sweaters and dressing preposterously, so really ugly Christmas sweaters are gold.

  4. Such a great post! I think the worst sweater that I’ve seen was a horrible magenta pink color with squirrels decorating a tree with gold acorns – it truly was atrocious, and if I remember correctly, on cashmere and $100. I’m pretty sure I will never forget that sweater! So, not only are ugly sweaters warm, they are certainly memorable!


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