Whether they’re an annual gift from your nan or an annual sight on overenthusiastic colleagues at the end-of-year office party, ugly Christmas sweaters are a longstanding tradition in Britain.
If ever you needed an excuse to wear one, we can tell you that 2021 is *the* year for the ugly Christmas sweater, so make sure you’re seen alive in what you wouldn’t previously be caught dead wearing.
Not sure where to start? Our mega epic guide is here to help!
Ugly Xmas Sweaters – A Pop Culture History
Nan’s seasonal knitwear aside, the ugly Christmas sweater entered pop culture in a big way in the 1980s – and we’ll find that snippet of history on the other side of the pond. The character of Cliff Huxtable, played by Bill Cosby on the Cosby Show, brought ugly sweaters into living rooms in the US, the UK, and other countries around the world.
The 1989 Chevy Chase film, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, took things a step further by bringing the ugly sweater into the festive season. It’s a simple wintery theme in green, red, and white; not exactly hideous, but a sign of ugly things to come.
Since then, we’ve seen all manner of monstrosities on stage and screen, in catalogues and shop windows, and on seemingly innocent passers-by. Looking for some inspiration? Check out the following five films for some of the ugliest Christmas sweaters ever seen on screen:
- The Santa Clause – Ugly sweaters feature in all three films in the series
- Dumb and Dumber – Whose was worse? Lloyd Christmas or Harry Dunne?
- Love Actually – Is it a turkey? Is it a peacock? No, it’s John of John & Judy.
- Bridget Jones’ Diary – The gorgeous Colin Firth wears a ghastly reindeer sweater.
- Christmas With The Kranks – Nora’s wardrobe includes ugly Christmas sweaters and worse cardigans
The Elements Of An Ugly Christmas Sweater
So, what exactly makes an ugly Christmas sweater ugly? Is it not just a matter of personal opinion? That could be the answer if you want to be diplomatic about it, but in reality, several elements combine in the seasonal sweaters that are well and truly hideous.
Your ugly Xmas jumper doesn’t need to contain all the following elements. One or two of them would still make for a sweater that makes you look at though you got dressed in Santa’s workshop (if it was on fire).
Ugly Christmas Sweater Element Checklist
- The knit would impress your nan: Good old-fashioned knitwear that would make your nan beam with pride is what you want. However, your ugly Christmas sweater or cardigan needs more than a good stitch. Bright colours, snowflakes, reindeer, Christmas trees, stars, and/or other festive season symbols should also be part of it.
- At least three colours: Two-tone is too tame for a foul festive sweater. You want at least three bright, gaudy, and garish colours. Green, red, and white are traditional Christmas colours, but you certainly aren’t limited to them – and don’t worry about clashing colours. The more it hurts to look at, the better (and uglier) it is. Let your imagination run wild.
- Bits and bobs: A true ugly Christmas sweater doesn’t limit itself to the pattern. The grotesque garment also wants bits and bobs on it. Small baubles, pom-poms, bows, tinsel, plastic stars, striped candy canes, fake holly, and even LED fairy lights are appropriate embellishments. If your sweater makes you look like a walking crime against humanity, you know you’re on the right track.
- The weird and the wonderful: Festive season symbols on an ugly Christmas sweater go without saying, but don’t believe for a minute that you’re limited to Santa, reindeer, trees, snowflakes, stars, elves, and all the other seasonal stuff. Man Ray-style red lips, Dali-esque melting anything, murderous Santa, mounted reindeer heads with X’s for eyes and lolling tongues, ninja gingerbread men, duck-billed platypuses, and dinosaurs are all great non-sensical additions. No, none of it needs to make sense.
- It’s in everyone’s face: There’s no ignoring a truly ugly Christmas sweater. Eyes must pop, heads must spin, the sun must darken and the stars fall from the sky all at the sight of your ghastly Xmas jumper.
The DIY Ugly Christmas Sweater
If you want an ugly Christmas sweater that’s truly unique, it’s best to DIY. You can even make it an activity the whole family enjoys.
If you have the time and the skill, you can knit one from scratch (use the ugliest store-bought or downloaded pattern you can find). The easier option is to buy the most horrendous seasonal sweater you can find, as well as a few other supplies.
Let’s take a quick look at what you need:
- A colourful, horrible Christmas sweater
- Tinsel, baubles, small bells, bows, candy canes, snowflakes, stars, and other appropriate and inappropriate cheap and cheerful Christmas decorations
- Safety pins
- Good quality glue
Right, now you can get to work. Lay the sweater flat on a sturdy surface. Spend a few minutes playing around with the positioning of the bits and bobs. Remember, you’re not trying to make the thing look good. Your sweater is not supposed to be pleasing to the eye, so don’t worry about balance or colour coordination.
When you’re happy (or horrified) enough, start sticking things in place. Use the safety pins to attach items that either won’t stick well with glue or that you may need to remove easily (small plastic willies aren’t suitable for every setting). Use the glue to attach the other bits and bobs. Leave to dry overnight. Prepare to lose friends and alienate people (no, not really – everyone who’s anyone will be donning ugly Christmas sweaters in 2021).
How To Throw An Ugly Christmas Sweater Party
Why limit your ugly Christmas sweater to the office party or family dinner?
You can wear it when you go shopping or to your favourite restaurant. Better yet, why not throw an ugly Christmas sweater party and invite your friends and family to share in the horror? If a face-to-face get-together isn’t possible, consider hosting a virtual party online.
The theme: It does exactly what it says on the tin. Encourage guests to wear ugly seasonal sweaters.
The invitations: Find Christmassy invitations drenched in poor taste. You can find some that fit the theme perfectly or you can create your own. State the dress code clearly and give your guests an idea of the evening’s menu and activities (especially if you’re going to hold an ugly sweater competition).
The food: It’s a Christmas party, so serve up the expected fare to avoid disappointing your guests (cocktail sausages and fruit mince pies are de rigueur). You’re not limited to that, of course. It’s your party, after all.
The activities: Consider playing a few games to increase the festive season fun. Charades, Christmas carol Pictionary, pin the red nose on the reindeer, and Christmas karaoke are some ideas to keep you and your guests entertained.
The music: The cheesier, the better. You won’t go wrong with Christmas carols and seasonal songs, especially if they’re bad pop versions. Start with selected tracks from Boney M’s Christmas album and really get into the spirit.
The ugly Christmas sweater contest: Decide on a few categories and let your guests vote for the winners. Make sure you have a few tongue-in-cheek prizes for the winners. Suggested categories include the ugliest sweater, the most original sweater, the tackiest sweater, and the best couple.
Our Pick Of Ugly Christmas Sweaters 2021
Not sure where to find the ugly Christmas sweater of your dreams/nightmares? Take a look at our top picks for 2021.
Festive Fair Isle Jumper
Boden’s Festive Fair Isle Jumper is a conglomeration of bright colours, snowmen, gingerbread men, and other seasonal symbols. The ugly Christmas sweater is available in women’s and men’s designs, and it makes a good starting point for a DIY project.
Fair Isle Crew Neck Relaxed Jumper
Eye-catching (scalding?) red, white, and black are woven together in a design that won’t require too much work to become a potentially award-winning ugly Christmas sweater. Remember to wear your sunglasses if you decide to embellish the Fair Isle Crew Neck Relaxed Jumper with bits and bobs.
Ho Ho Ho Jacquard Knit Jumper
Oh, oh, oh, the Ho Ho Ho Jacquard Knit Jumper is a sight to behold. The dominant green is broken by red H’s and white O’s that are likely to induce a migraine headache in anyone who looks at it. This has got to be one of the ugliest Christmas sweaters we’ve ever seen. It’s a winner, alright.
Sequin Santa And Rainbow Christmas Jumper
You’ll turn heads for all the wrong (or right, depending on your perspective) reasons when you wear the Sequin Santa And Rainbow Christmas Jumper. Sombre black is broken by a sparkly Santa on a sparkly reindeer flying over a sparkly rainbow. This sweater is ripe for embellishment.
Cracking Festive Intarsia Jumper
The Cracking Festive Intarsia Jumper adds a nonsensical element in the form of a dog wearing Christmas tree spectacles. Avoid the mostly bright red ugly Christmas sweater the morning after the party, as the colour won’t do your hangover any favours.
Topman Oversized Knitted Snowman Jumper
Featuring the face of a snowman that could have been inspired by Edvard Munch’s The Scream, the Topman Oversized Knitted Snowman Jumper for men is a pastel horror job. The light colours are broken by garish orange carrots that resemble prawns.
Attenbrrr: David Attenborough Knitted Christmas Jumper
What’s more nonsensically Christmassy than Sir David with a robin on a green background ruined by snowflakes, reindeer, and planet earth? If that sounds like the ugly Christmas sweater for you, check out the Attenbrrr: David Attenborough Knitted Christmas Jumper.
Dashing Theroux The Snow Men’s Black Christmas Jumper
A must for fans of Louis Theroux or bad puns! The Dashing Theroux The Snow Men’s Black Christmas Jumper features a Santa-hat sporting a British-American journalist, snowflakes, Christmas trees, and patterns designed by someone’s nan.
Comic Penguin Men’s Eco Christmas Jumper
The Comic Penguin Men’s Eco Christmas Jumper is a red, green, white, blue, and black ugly Christmas sweater. It’s a great option if you want to appal your friends with what look like pixelated penguins, reindeer, snowmen, snowflakes, and Christmas trees.
Santa Reaper Christmas Jumper
Alchemy’s Santa Reaper Christmas Jumper is *the* ugly Christmas sweater for anyone with a penchant for the gothic. The sweater features the grim reaper dressed as Santa. A few decorations and some glue are all you need to take it to the next level.
Get Your Ugly Christmas Sweater On
The season of the ugly Christmas sweater is upon us! Use our guide to dazzle and dumbfound everyone around you.