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Frumpy, Fugly Fun: Ugly Christmas sweater parties - the new intentionally tacky holiday tradition 

click to enlarge Oh so tacky.
  • Oh so tacky.
Oh so tacky.
Great aunts, grandmothers and the overzealous knitters in your family sometimes have the misguided idea that everyone should own a holiday sweater. While some are more "tasteful" in their selection process, others feel that nothing says "Happy Holidays" better than a blazing red knit creation complete with three dimensional snowmen, glitter, sewn-on ribbons and bells and, if you're lucky, some battery-operated lights. While this attempt to spread holiday cheer is typically well-meant, this nightmare apparel is about as subtle as Santa Claus beating you over the head with a sack of broken Christmas lights screaming "Merry Christmas" and about as desirable as an STD - until now that is. Holiday sweaters have a new purpose in life and are a reason for celebration with the increased popularity of ugly Christmas sweater parties. So get excited when you unwrap the latest holiday sweater from Aunt Gertie - you no longer have to fake acting thankful and now have a perfectly acceptable way to show it off and even win prizes.

While the start date of the ugly Christmas sweater party is unknown, Jordan Birch and Chris Boyd of Vancouver, Canada, claim to have thrown the first ugly sweater Christmas party in 2001. While it seems perfectly conceivable that since ugly Christmas sweaters have been around since well before 2001 that this is not the official "first", we're just taking Jordan and Chris' word for it because they appear to have been the first ones to throw a large-scale public party. Now in its seventh year, the Vancouver party, which started as a house party, attracts more than 1,000 sweater-wearing patrons. These parties have become so popular that there are even websites dedicated to the sale of said sweaters as well as tips and tricks for throwing your own party. Check out

Conor Holmberg recently moved to Portland from Bend where he hosted a pair of ugly sweater parties, complete with ugliest sweater contests to wrap up the night. Holmberg, who bears a striking resemblance to The Office's Andy Bernard (who is known to wear a pretty awful sweater on occasion) provides a two-part answer when asked what makes a prize-winning sweater.

"If you're a male, I've had the most success wearing tight, female sweaters," says Holmberg. "And you have to have a snug turtleneck underneath -that really ties it together," he adds.

For females, Holmberg says that the some of the best sweaters are ones that are three-dimensional in nature. Typically this means there are a few ornaments hanging off the piece of clothing. "Sweater vests are also very under utilized," says Holmberg, who explains that the best sweater parties are usually smaller so you can fully appreciate each guest's wardrobe choice.

Local ski patroller Matt Baldwin threw a gigantic Christmas sweater party last year here in Bend, inspired by his friend, known only as Blue 22, and some "meager" attempts at a full-on sweater party that he'd attended while in college. "The best Christmas sweater I've ever seen was definitely sort of a creepy Mr. Rogers one," says Baldwin.

Similarly, Holmberg says that the best sweater he's seen to date was also based on a fiction character: Cousin Eddy from Christmas Vacation.

"You've gotta have a little bit of a beer gut to pull it off and it's basically a tight cream-colored [holiday] sweater with a burgundy turtleneck underneath," says Holmberg. With ugly sweater parties popping up all over this holiday season, partygoers should beware that these jolly adornments are somewhat of a hot commodity. Gina O'Connell, a supervisor at Bend's Goodwill store says that the holiday sweaters that come into the store are staggeringly popular items.

"I think people have a lot of fun," she says about the sweaters. "They come in and try them on and have fun ...then go have fun at the parties they wear them to." The Bend Goodwill usually starts putting out their holiday rack, which includes sweaters as well as things like tree skirts, tea towels and wall hangings, in October. O'Connell says that the rush for holiday sweaters usually comes closer to Christmas, when she starts to see people flock to the holiday rack and the number of holiday sweater purchases increases.

Holmberg says that shopping for the sweater is the best part of the whole experience. "You go to Goodwill or the thrift store and look through all the holiday sweaters, and then there's always a little old lady next to you buying the same Christmas sweater, but for a completely different reason-that's all part of the experience," he says.


The Source knows we aren't all "lucky" enough to have a well-stocked closet full of holiday sweater creations ala Aunt Gertie and for this reason, sweater party frequenters, we've gone out and done some of the leg work for you. Here are three locations with some stellar sweater sightings:

1. Fred Meyer

Fred Meyer carries the brand Traditions, which caters to your every Christmas Sweater whim. Whether it's dancing puffy snowmen in tutus, festively glittering vests or a complete reindeer scene, Traditions has you covered. There are also some pretty sweet Christmas cat sweaters for the feline lovers out there. Bonus: The closer to Christmas, the cheaper the sweater. Look for sweaters to be on sale up to 50% off right before and after the big day.

2. Goodwill

Okay, so, pickings may be pretty slim the closer you get to Christmas, but at least the sweaters are grouped together and wallet-friendly.

3. Wal-Mart

WalMart stocks a full line of Christmas-themed turtlenecks for under $10, plenty of fugly seasonal button-downs for around $20 and some fleece sweatshirt-style holiday shirts for less than $15. This should be, of course, a last resort...isn't that always the case with Wal-Mart?

Don't forget to add your own embellishments to your purchase - you knew you saved that Bedazzler for a reason!

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