Ugly Christmas sweaters find their niche in holiday wardrobes
By KELLY EMMRICH
It’s the most wonderful time of the year again, where the holiday season is filled with an overzealous uncles wrestling with decorations, carolers that are just a little bit flat, Grandmas that are slaving over a ham in the oven, and, of course, the adornment of the ubiquitous, ugly Christmas sweaters.
Originally, we were sure these sweaters littered the wardrobe of our sixth grade English teacher or our great-aunts who were a little too crazy about cats.
Now they are worn, ironically, by partygoers of all ages. These sweaters have been around since the 1950s, the sewing tactics used originated in the 1950s, and they were not emitted in American popular culture until the 1980s.
The commercialization of Christmas was just beginning in the 1950s, so wearing a Christmas sweater was not trendy, it was a horrible experience. Christmas sweaters were just a part of your holiday wardrobe, a dreaded present.
Despite his recent controversy, Bill Cosby was heralded as ‘the father of ugly sweaters.’ He unintentionally started the trend that would last for decades to come.
“The Cosby Show” was not one without Cosby’s ridiculous sweaters and their designer, Koos van der Akker, who takes the credit. Akker has dressed celebrities like Cher, Elton John and Barbara Walters. One of Cosby’s friends personally asked Akker to design a custom-made sweater for a present.
“At that time I was making those sweaters for my regular customers, so I said sure. The customer took the sweater to his set, and Cosby put it on and liked it, and then he had to go on for the camera, so he kept it on and did his sequence in that,” said Akker in a Fashionista interview with Tyler McCall.
After the episode aired in the 1980s, “The Cosby Show” started receiving emails asking where Cosby had received the sweater. Because of the uptick in popularity, Cosby called Akker to order more sweaters for the show. Also in Christmas classic, “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” Chevy Chase wore an ugly Christmas sweater that combined the designs of the Cosby sweater with a Christmas theme, much to the delight of viewers.
During the 1990s the popularity faded, but these garish sweaters have made a serious comeback in the 2000s. For instance in 2001, Colin Firth wore a reindeer turtleneck sweater in the movie Bridget Jones’ Diary, creating a new iconic ugly sweater moment in cinema.
Not only are consignment shops such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army reaping the benefits from this trend, but so are big retailers all over the country. Stores such as H&M, Wal-Mart, Kroger’s, Nordstrom and even Bloomingdales are going out of stock of the tinseled and reindeer sporting sweaters.
No one will ever be sure as to who hosted the first ugly Christmas sweater party, but in the early 2000s, longtime friends, Chris Boyd and Jordan Birch, hosted an ugly Christmas sweater party in the prestigious hotel Commodore Hotel in Vancouver, Canada. “We have always claimed to be the first, and even trademarked ‘ugly Christmas sweater’ and ‘ugly Christmas sweater party’ here in Canada,” said Boyd in several interviews. The two now host a coveted annual Christmas party, featuring the ugliest of holiday sweater.
Another group of men launched a website in 2007 called uglychristmassweaterparty.com. The founders Brian Miller, Adam Paulson and Kevin Wool started collecting sweaters and then selling them online. In 2011, the three of them published a book called “Ugly Christmas Sweater Party Book: The Definitive Guide to Getting Your Ugly On.” The book includes how to throw the perfect party, what to wear and how to judge the ugly Christmas sweater contest. In other words, everything you need to know to have the ugliest party.
This Christmas, be sure to throw on your cringe-worthy bedazzled vintage reindeer sweater and have a great holiday season, eggnog in hand.