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The Legend of the Ugly Christmas Sweater

Updated on December 22, 2012

Get Your Ugly On - Ugly Christmas Sweater (and more) to Music!

Ugly Sweater Vest with Fake Fur Trim
Ugly Sweater Vest with Fake Fur Trim | Source

History of the ugly Christmas sweater

Everyone remembers that holiday sweaters that were “gifted” to them when they were children. Just like the pink bunny suit in A Christmas Story that was given to Ralphie, there was often a dreaded box under the tree with the ugly sweater that was made or bought and that no one wore, except when forced to by relatives. These ugly sweaters were once the bane of all children – and even some adults –but now they’ve become trendy and popular. In the 1990s, they began a rise that has continued to this day, and have even become popular on late-night tv, like on the Jimmy Fallon show’s “The 12 Days of Christmas Sweaters” and on MTV’s “True Life: I Love Ugly Christmas Sweaters.”

Everyone has their own definition of ugly, but some common themes are large appliques, especially of snowmen, Christmas trees, Santa, and reindeers, among other commons Christmas themes, potentially some lights that require a batter pack to be removed for washing, and/or pom-poms or other protruding decorations. Sequins are a must, and sometimes there may even be actual Christmas decorations, such as tinsel, garland, or even ornaments.

Ugly Sweater Vest
Ugly Sweater Vest | Source

Does it have to be a sweater?

While the ugly Christmas sweater was originally a sweater, there are other options out there. For those who live in warmer climates, there are vests. And now there are even t-shirts (often carried by Wal-Mart) that are printed with the appearance of ugly Christmas sweaters and vests. The look is what matters, and as long as it’s “ugly” and has that Christmas spirit, it works. If you are afraid to brave the sweater yourself, there are even options for pets. Ugly Christmas sweaters have passed the species line, and they exist for dogs and cats.

An "ugly sweater" in t-shirt form!
An "ugly sweater" in t-shirt form! | Source
An "ugly sweater" in t-shirt form!
An "ugly sweater" in t-shirt form! | Source

Where to buy ugly Christmas sweaters

Thrift stores

Thrift stores are a great option to pick up ugly Christmas sweaters because of their prices. They tend to be most reasonable, with sweaters running from $1 to $6, depending on where you go. Salvation Army, Goodwill, and smaller individual thrift stores for local groups tend to have the best prices, but sometimes the selection isn’t that good because other people get there first. Because of that, it’s best to shop off-season and be prepared to check more than one place to find what you want in your size.

Consignment shops

Consignment shops are another good option. They tend to have a slightly better selection, but their prices are higher because most consignment shops carry more high-end clothing than thrift shops, and they will often have condition requirements. Because of this, you might find a “better” sweater, but it will likely cost more.

Vintage shops

Many vintage shops even have websites for shopping, so you can check out their selection at home. Some vintage shops will have entire ugly Christmas sweater sections. You’ll be looking at older sweaters here – some may be from the 60s, 70s, and 80s – so you get that lived-in feel. The conditions will vary, and the prices will also be higher than with thrift and even consignment shops. This is because they are considered collector items in some cases, and the vintage shop will know what the sweaters are worth to collectors who want them.


Whether you’re looking to buy or sell an ugly Christmas sweater, eBay is a great option. The biggest issues with shopping through eBay are that you’re relying on a seller who may or may not have a history of selling clothing. Be sure to check and find out if the sweater is coming from a home with animals or smokers – both these things may affect the price and condition. In addition, depending on when you’re shopping, you may get outbid or find that prices get driven up quickly.

Department stores

Once, you had to make an ugly Christmas sweater yourself or help that Great Aunt Edna found one at the local church sale. Now you can go to almost any department store and find a proper sweater. Even high end stores, including Dillard’s, Macy’s, and Neiman Marcus, now carry sweaters for those that want to get in on the fun.

Ugly Sweater Vest (front)
Ugly Sweater Vest (front) | Source
Ugly Sweater Vest (back)
Ugly Sweater Vest (back) | Source
Cthulhu Christmas Sweater from Archie McPhee
Cthulhu Christmas Sweater from Archie McPhee | Source

Purposely bad/funny sweaters

Originally, the sweaters were thought to be legitimately pretty, or at least Christmasy and attractive. Why, no one knows. But instead of just going for the traditional Christmas look, some shops offer sweaters that are purposely over the top or funny. Archie McPhee offers purposely funny sweaters, including ones that feature Krampus and Cthulhu. Other websites, like Ript Appareland Tee Furyfeature a new t-shirt every day. During the holiday season, they offer many parody t-shirts based on popular Christmas shows that have been combined with Internet memes or other humorous ideas. Both sites sell t-shirts for one day only, and the t-shirts are generally $10 each, a great way to bolster your Christmas joy in t-shirt form!

Ugly Christmas Sweater Party Activity: Cookie Decorating!

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