The Story Behind Ugly Sweaters

Where do Ugly Christmas Sweaters Come From?

Sweaters as we know it have been knitted and worn since the 15th century, and presumably their knitters were trying to make them somewhat attractive and primarily functional, but the ugly sweater trend is something altogether modern. Originally an invention of wives of fishermen and sailors in the English Channel, they were called jerseys before the term sweaters came in vogue in the 1890s, when they were adopted by athletes.

ugly sweaters

Woollen sweaters are known for the lanolin oil in them which makes them good at sealing out moisture and protect against the cold even when wet. So where does the ugly come from?

 Baby, It's Cold Outside

Beauty, and ugliness, is in the eye of the beholder. Arguably, sweaters’ primary function are to keep out the cold. When in 1920s sweaters became fashionable, new colors, textures, lengths and patterns emerged. As the decades passed, grannies all over the western world are known to sport the now “old-fashioned” sweaters, and perhaps then and now considered ugly on accord of them being old-fashioned.

 The Huxtable

Then Clift Huxtable came along in the 1980s with his bold, clashing patterns, and Chevy Chase solidified his taste in them in the National Lampoon movies, and the ugly sweater was a staple in American homes. Mrs. Goldberg, the lovable, stifling mother in The Goldbergs, a show set in the 80s, wears them unapologetically. 

 Christmas Tradition

In the 90s, the trend slowed down a bit, but moms were still knitting them as Christmas gifts for their beloved family members all the way until the 2010s. It’s implied in many a movie and show that the majority of the receiving parties are not thrilled about their aesthetics. Even Harry Potter was on the receiving end of one of these sweaters, knitted by the kind and well-meaning Mrs. Weasley.

 Worn With Pride

Nowadays, ugly sweaters are to be worn with pride. The tradition of ugly sweaters is comforting in an era of cold information and distance, and the meaning of love and family is not be underemphasized. There are ugly sweater parties all around the country, for fundraising reasons as well as for pure fun.

Ugly Sweater

So if you have a collection of ugly sweaters stashed in the attic, it’s time to dust them off, hand wash them, and wear them - on purpose.