By Katie Broyles
When the holiday phenomenon known as The Ugly Christmas Sweater Party first began, you could walk into any thrift store in America and find a hideous Rudolf cardigan with a big red pom-pom for a nose hanging off it. The shops were filled with discarded Yuletide creations of the eighties and nineties showcasing snowmen and gingerbread men, Christmas trees and candy canes. They were unflattering, knit in chunky yarns that added ten pounds to the usual extra holiday weight, and above all, they were gaudy. No one with any fashion sense wanted to be seen anywhere near one of these things. The sweaters had been donated to charity shops in droves.
There was a surplus. But the invisible hand of the market, or old Saint Nick, stepped in. The competitive Ugly Christmas Sweater Party was born. The whole point was how easy it was to find an ugly Christmas sweater. The challenge of the contest was not just to find any ugly sweater, but to find a hideous one, to top friends and fellow party goers by presenting the most implausible, hilarious example of a tacky Christmas pullover. Invitees to the first parties were choosing between ample options and carefully selecting the worst.
Try doing that today. In fact, try finding a truly horrible Christmas sweater in a thrift shop on short notice. As we all know, The Ugly Christmas Sweater Party became so popular and spread so far and wide that our national supply of ugly Christmas sweaters has been depleted. With every new party catching on to the trend, they were bought out one by one. Even the most fashionable started stocking them in their closets. Fearing an invite to an ugly sweater party the following year, party goers stopped giving them back to the thrift shops, slowly removing them from circulation. The uglier the sweater, the harder it would be to replace. And so finally, after years of ugly sweater competitions, we find ourselves living in a society where the young and hip hoard cringe-worthy Christmas sweaters, and the thrift stores are bare.
These days, holiday merrymakers are sometimes forced to show up at ugly Christmas sweater parties in an understated red and green plaid or a tasteful snowflake pattern. In the glory days of ugly sweater contests, they would have been denied entry, shunned, and sent home in shame for not following the rules. Now when this happens, everyone shrugs their shoulders and agrees that the person probably did the best they could. These are sad times for ugly sweaters, indeed.
So is this the end of the ugly Christmas sweater party? Where does the buck stop? Surely we cannot start buying tasteless sweaters brand new in department stores. That would be sacrilege, shameful and sordid. Internet retailers try to tempt us with knock-off ugly sweaters, but who could live with such a dark secret? Maybe we are destined to fight like angry elves over the last remaining sweaters at the thrift store with giant jingle bells hanging off the front. Time will tell. The golden age of the ugly Christmas sweater party has come and gone. For now, all we can do is bundle up, head out in the cold to our local charity shop, and hope for a Christmas miracle.