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  • Sandy Gonsalves

When did Christmas sweaters become ugly?

Updated: Dec 16, 2022



It’s National Ugly Sweater Day. And I have a confession: I have an intended-to-be-fashionable Christmas sweater in my attic. And yes, I wore it un-ironically for years—even to work—before ugly sweaters became a thing.

Before you judge me, consider it was the 1990s, when fashion was often questionable and way before Colin Firth wore that infamous reindeer sweater in Bridget Jones’s Diary. Plus, my preschool daughter had the tiny matching version which upped the cuteness factor in my mind.

I dug out my sweater recently, thinking it wouldn’t be quite ugly enough to be on trend. To my delight, it’s truly hideous by 2022 standards! This got me thinking about how Christmas sweaters evolved as a brand category from seasonal fashion to tongue-in-cheek apparel. And how organizations have leveraged the ugly sweater movement to build their brands.




Gaining visibility


From Outback Steakhouse and Swiss Miss to Dunkin’s and Ruffles, it seems like everyone has their own ugly Christmas sweater or holiday hoodie. While sales of these products aren’t huge revenue streams for most companies, they provide a relatively inexpensive way to increase visibility, especially during the holiday shopping season. If you see a friend wearing the Outback sweater, you just may think to pick up Outback gift cards for your hard-to-shop-for relatives.




Raising money

This time of year, giving back is top of mind. Many nonprofits leverage the light-hearted fun of ugly sweaters to fundraise. Colleges and animal rescue organizations are just a few of the nonprofits selling branded ugly apparel. Ugly sweater parties have become fundraisers, and there are ugly sweater walks and runs (though sweating in an ugly sweater sounds pretty ugly to me).




Building culture

Company-sponsored ugly sweater parties, gift exchanges and contests provide a break from holiday and end-of-year stress and generate lots of brand-building content for social. And who wouldn’t want to work for a company that has an annual ugly sweater party?


There are so many ways to raise brand awareness, build unity and even do good with your ugly sweater. Which is why I just donated mine to my favorite charity.


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