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The inside joke that everyone is in on: tacky, yet celebrated and encouraged. We’re talking about the ugly Christmas sweater. How is it that this garment is so popular? Let’s take a brief look at its fashion history.

Originally called “Jingle Bell sweaters,” the first Christmas-themed sweaters were mass produced in the 1950s when the Christmas holiday was becoming increasingly commercialized. It had modest popularity until the 1980s when the sweaters became mainstream. We can thank Bill Cosby and Chevy Chase for becoming fashion icons for the sweater.

Cosby was synonymous with the fashion of pullovers with abstract color mixing and patterns. The Cosby Show dominated mainstream American television from 1984 to 1992 and most likely contributed to the longevity of the ugly sweater as a fashion choice. The 1989 movie, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, highlighted the example of self-aware ugly Christmas sweater-wearing.

The Christmas sweater’s popularity faded in the 1990s until it was revitalized in the 2000s. According to the authors of “Ugly Christmas Sweater Party Book: The Definitive Guide to Getting Your Ugly On,” the first ugly sweater party was held in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2002. The hosts were aiming for a “cheesy, feel-good, festive party.” Little did anyone know that would spark a cultural phenomenon that would eventually hit the high fashion runway.

In 2011, the ugly Christmas sweater gained so much traction that Dolce & Gabbana unveiled a collection of so-ugly-it’s-beautiful sweaters. Today, the ugly Christmas sweater has become a mainstay of holiday attire with major retailers offering a range of designs from modest to corny.

What is it about the ugly Christmas sweater that draws people? Is it a sarcastic poke at holiday excess? Does the goofiness help people let their guard down? Whatever it may be, it seems that the ugly Christmas sweater will be a closet staple for years to come.

Sources: Complex.com, Time Magazine, Wikipedia, Southern Living Magazine.

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