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How the Internet killed the Ugly Christmas Sweater

Goodbye, itchy memories of Yuletide bliss.


Molly McHugh


Posted on Dec 12, 2014   Updated on May 30, 2021, 12:09 am CDT

Ugly Christmas Sweaters are like porn: You can’t define them, but you know them when you see them. They are often bejeweled and cheesy. You associate them with Goodwill and Value Villages. You see them worn in earnest as winter finery by grandmas and cheerful Target cashiers.

And of course, you and I (i.e., millennials) engage in the search every year to find one for the Ugly Christmas Sweater Party we will undoubtedly be attending. See, the Ugly Christmas Sweater and Ugly Christmas Sweater Party were fun because we were wearing sweaters that people actually had owned, that were intentionally made to be worn. And look at how ridiculous they were, with their baubles and reindeer and sewn-on tinsel! Ha ha ha, look how much fun we’re having with these hideously joyful treasures we’ve unearthed!

It was a simple time, but the Internet hath killed it. Part of the entire Ugly Christmas Sweater agenda was to find the absolute ugliest option conceivable, to be a pioneer and dig through bins at second-hand stores, to make late-night trips to the Walmart senior section. To find the cheapest, ugliest, Christmasiest, sweateriest sweater.

But lo, the Internet, as it’s wont to do, has cut out the middleman. Rent the Runway (which regularly rents our fancy outfits and is a service I could not endorse more, for the record) has an Ugly Christmas Sweater promotion, where you can have your choice of gaudy wrap shipped to you at your convenience, to be returned when you’re done. These generically ugly items are $15 to rent, $45 to own.

Rent the Runway

Then there’s the new sub-genre of Ugly Christmas Sweater: The athletic organization Ugly Christmas Sweater. Available for virtually any sport, any team; they run between $50-$110. Ha ha ha, look! I am both partaking of this cultural trend and making known my team affiliation!

NBA Store

There are, naturally, Instagram contests and Pinterest how-tos and more than one app. And I guess today is Ugly Christmas Sweater Day, which I’m guessing wasn’t a thing until that site deemed it so back in 2012. (It likely goes back further, but there isn’t even a Wikipedia entry for it, so.)

Ugly Christmas Sweaters were beautiful because they were supposed to be taken seriously, and we just couldn’t do it. Now they are of a prescribed nature, in on the joke. They are no longer innocent—and also, aren’t cheap, and for awhile they haven’t been all that easy to come by! Ugly is now a holiday trend, not a self-deprecating response to how expensive December has become. Major retailers now have dedicated Ugly Christmas Sweater sections.


So that’s it then: We all had a lot of fun, and for a brief moment the Ugly Christmas Sweater was an untouched, holy thing. Now I’ll have to hope that three other people aren’t wearing the same sweater I ordered to the holiday party. 

Photo via USACE Europe District/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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*First Published: Dec 12, 2014, 2:00 pm CST