What Makes an Ugly Sweater?

In discussion last night, the topic of ugly sweaters came up, and there was a bit of debate over what, exactly, an ugly sweater consists of and (more importantly) if it’s possible to ruin an ugly sweater. In other words, is there some sort of ideal, platonic form of ugliness in regards to sweaters, and anything more or less than that is veering from that ideal?

Now this is a topic I think we can really sink our teeth into. Something that can help us come together and bring us up out of the endless squabbling of the past. So, friends: what makes an ugly sweater?

On the surface, I realize this seems like a pretty straightforward question. After all, you can go to Amazon this second and buy any number of ugly sweaters. You’ve got pop culture references to Christmas Vacation or Home Alone. You’ve got Christmas llamas and Christmas tree substitutes. But I would argue that these aren’t really ugly Christmas sweaters, mainly because they’re ugly on purpose. Tacky Christmas sweaters? You betcha. But to me, I think ugliness has to be something that’s more an accidental byproduct than the point itself.

In many ways, my approach is probably influenced by my experience with ugly ties on my mission. Any novice can go and buy a tacky tie. Something with an idiotic picture on it, or something that was made to be ridiculed. But it took a real connoisseur to go through thrift stores and find a tie that was made to be stylish, but which had either gone horribly wrong, or long since fallen out of favor and into ugly-dom.

So to find a truly ugly sweater (by my definition), you’d have to find one that’s made to be stylish, but is most definitely not. I believe the Ursprung of the ugly Christmas sweater can be traced back to the Norwegian sweaters. The ones with the snowflake-esque patterns on them. I happen to like a lot of them, and you can look through Dale of Norway as a sort of sampler of what’s available. It is here, amidst the sweaters with aspirations to greatness, that you might have hope of finding nominees for the truly ugly. The models have to look like they mean business, rather than that they’re kidding around. Ideally, an ugly sweater would be so bad that you can almost tell the model is reconsidering their career choice, just for putting the thing on. And yet they wear it anyway, because this is fashion.

With a bit of browsing on their site, I think I’ve come across a potential candidate. The Snohetta Unisex sweater.

It’s either a decapitated reindeer head, stylish bleeding snowflake patterns, or . . . some sort of post modern statement on the commercialization of Christmas? I’m not really sure, to be honest. But I do know that it will set you back a cool $420 to buy a new one. You have to admire a person who, when faced with the decision of buying a new iPad or a Godfather-Meets-Christmas olive green monstrosity, goes with the Godfather. This is no gag gift. This is a sweater that wants to be the real deal.

(As a side note, I have to also observe that for a sweater to really be ugly, it has to be potentially beautiful to some people. Otherwise, you’re just boxing with kid gloves on.)

So taking this sweater as our exemplar, is there anything that could be added to it to make it uglier, without going too far? I mean, you could add a red nose to the reindeer, but I think at that point it would veer off into “subtly comic” territory, ruining its pure ugliness. Likewise, picking a different color palette might also ruin it.

The more I think about it, the more this sweater persuades me that somewhere out there, there truly is the world’s ugliest sweater. One that would make all those pretenders on Amazon weep in shame. It’s probably resting at the bottom of some donation bin, or maybe at the back of someone’s closet. But it would be perfect.

Anyone got any real nominees?


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