Orth Cleaners | A Brief History of the Ugly Christmas Sweater
A Brief History of the Ugly Christmas Sweater
By Alan Venable
Bow Tie

Who could have imagined that something intentionally labeled "ugly" would ever become so desirable? However, major retailers like Macy's, Kohl's and Target burn through their stocks of bunches of fabric they call "Ugly Christmas Sweaters" each winter. Far from the consumer uselessness of the Pet Rock, the Ugly Christmas Sweater serves as the crowning piece to a trending holiday party tradition. But when did this cult tradition begin? The 1980s, of course. Like most imitative humor, the inspiration behind the "Ugly Christmas Sweater" was once considered reasonably fashionable.

We can look to fashion designer Koos Van Den Akker and actress Josephine Premice as some of the Ugly Christmas Sweater's initial instigators. Koos, a New York-based designer who is notorious for loud patterns and wild prints, says of his style, "I can throw anything together. I paint with fabrics." Premice, who spotted one of Koos Van Den Akker's colorful sweaters, asked the designer if he would make one for friends of hers who worked in television.

Soon after, then-mega-celebrities like Chuck Norris and Richard Simmons indulged in the fashion. Chevy Chase, in his cult comedy classic "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation," became an icon by sporting an elaborate sweater. The sweater quickly transformed from a homespun trinket from Grandma into a major commercial commodity.

The timing of the infamous "Jingle Bell Sweater" in the '80s is all a matter of "the chicken or the egg." Sweaters elaborately decorated with bells, jewels and yarn became a sudden holiday necessity. Christmastime was incomplete without a tinkling, sparkling or ostentatiously festive sweater or vest. (Peruse any awkward Christmas family photo album for proof.) Peaking in popularity near the end of the '80s, the Christmas sweater was abandoned and broadly recognized as "tacky" or "ugly" by the mid '90s.

After years of dust-collecting neglect, the (now) Ugly Christmas Sweater is once again a highly-treasured holiday accoutrement. Contemporaries indulge in "Ugly Sweater Parties" and "National Ugly Christmas Sweater Day" (December 12) as an ironic commentary on the fashion of their parents. The bigger, the more gauche and the uglier, the better. While no one wants to directly take credit for the Ugly Christmas Sweater, department stores aren't complaining. An "original" Ugly Christmas Sweater runs for around $40.

"Everyone always tries so hard to look good year round," says Ugly Christmas Sweater enthusiast Sunny Rosario of New York City. "Ugly Sweater gatherings are a chance to dress things down and purposefully wear something fun. It's liberating."

Jeans: To Wash or Not To Wash
Keeping Your Winter Hats, Scarves and Gloves Fresh

It's winter hats, scarves and gloves season! Think about all the perspiration and precipitation those poor garments are subjected to inside and out. Make sure to let your hats, scarves and gloves dry. Never bundle them up in tight places after use. Allowing the moisture to saturate is a sure way for your garments to smell like mildew. Consider putting a clothing rack or series of hooks near the front door for convenience. And, don't forget to bring your hats, scarves and gloves to Orth each winter season for a thorough cleaning.