The uglier, the better. Our aging aunts gifted us with knitted monstrosities at the holidays, and we promptly washed and dried them on the hot cycle so they became the size of mittens and could never be worn again. But somehow, they became a fashion statement in the early 1990s, and in the early 2000s, ugly sweater parties grew in popularity. Suddenly, trendsters mobbed thrift stores and old attics in search of the most hideous sweater to wear with pride.
In a infamous scene from Bridget Jones’s Diary, actor Colin Firth dons a gaudy sweater given to him by his mother:
Late-night talk show host Jimmy Fallon jumped on the sweater bandwagon with the segment “The 12 Days of Christmas Sweaters.”
Fashionistas such as Stella McCartney and Marc Jacob’s even knit and purl to satisfy the craving, selling sweaters for upwards of $1000. High-end department stores offer winter-themed pullovers – but Auntie is no longer the target market.
Mike Golomb’s mother was a kindergarden teacher in the 1980s, and he remembers making fun of her collection of sweaters that she wore during school events. “She always told me, ‘You are going to need one of these one day!’ Fast forward 20 years. I got invited to an ugly Christmas sweater party on a Monday, and I needed a sweater for the party that Friday night. But I looked everywhere and could not find any. I had to call her, pleading for her to send me one.”
Mike’s mom wasn’t at home, and he had to attend the party without a sweater. But he realized that others were probably having the same trouble. He began to buy ugly sweaters during the off-season, then reselling them during the holidays. His online store, UglySweaterStore.com, offers sweaters as well as jackets and other accessories.
“People like dressing up, and having a themed party. It’s an extension of the Halloween season into December,” says Golomb. Ugly sweaters range from the ski-type pullover to holiday-themed appliquéd, to the glue-gunned felt and sparkles numbers. Although retail stores have joined in with inexpensive sweaters, Golomb says there are still cult followers of the original vintage sweater – and in this case, ugly is in the eye of the beholder. “We have the vintage sweaters that were over $100 at the department stores that people thought were beautiful back then – there is a ton of hand embroidery and bead work. The sweater they choose can help let their inner personality come out.”
What’s On Your Sweater?
Golomb says their latest best seller is the “beer sweater,” designed and manufactured by their company. “Most people are drinking at their holiday parties and never have enough hands. What better place to place your beverage but in your sweater?” laughs Golomb. “The majority of the other sweaters we sell are one of a kind, which is what makes looking at the site so much fun. Animals- cats, dogs, flamingos – sell really well, or ones with branded characters like Snoopy and Mickey Mouse.”
We can’t talk about sweaters without bowing to the Goddess of Sweaters. Beverly Goldberg (played by Wendi McLendon-Covey) on the TV sitcom The Goldbergs, has a sweater for every occasion. Her family doesn’t appreciate her efforts to rise above the normal mom fashions with her beaded wonders.
But after criticizing his own mom’s wardrobe as a child, Golomb now appreciates the magic of the sweater. “Beverly’s collection on The Goldbergs is phenomenal. We typically deal mostly with Christmas but get random sweaters in all of the time and they would pair perfectly with her character. She has outstanding taste and is not afraid to show off her amazing unique collection of sweaters.”
feature photo courtesy Kris Atomic of Unsplash