Ugly Christmas sweater history with The Tower Heritage Center
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The Unravelling of Jingle Bell Sweaters. Warning: This Could Get Ugly.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and you’ve received an invite in the mail. It’s for a holiday party, but you’re supposed to wear your ugliest outfit. Crazy, right?

It’s no longer enough to deck the halls – we’re taking it to a whole new level – our sweaters. Ugly sweaters (and their parties) have been sleighing the Christmas season for years. You can find them everywhere from boutiques to department stores. Options are boundless – allowing you to choose your own festive flair: vintage, handmade, or store-bought.

So… How did this tradition ever start? We’re going way back to Christmas past to clear some things up.

Early History of Jingle Bell Sweaters

Ugly Christmas sweaters took root in the 1950s, appearing during that classic ‘sweater weather’ that’s undeniably adored. Rather than today’s garish designs, these sweaters were a timeless novelty. Like this one here…

Historic Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer Sweater
‘Oh. Deer. How adorable is this children’s Christmas sweater? It’s from 1950, complete with jingle bells and an iconic Christmas reindeer. Oh, Rudolph, you’ll go down in history.’
Tag of 1950s Christmas sweater with The Tower Heritage Center
‘Here’s the inner tag of the sweater. It reads: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Sweater by Marinette.’
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer on a children's ugly Christmas sweater
‘Isn’t the detail amazing? This classic sweater belongs in the collection of the Washington County Historical Society.’

Referred to as “jingle bell sweaters” these were even worn by celebrities. Fast forward a few decades…

Emergence of Ugly Christmas Sweaters

The unraveling of festive Sweaters began in the 1980s. The next generation began embracing the wool-wear in the spirit of making fun of the generation prior. We see examples in pop culture, from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation to Home Alone. 

Christmas Past Becomes Traditions Present

In the early 2000s, the trend picked up again. The first ugly Christmas sweater party to be recorded is said to have happened in 2002 in Vancouver, British Canada. 

The wool-brained idea snowballed – and soon – ugly sweater parties were everywhere.

Just Like Grandma Used to Wear

An ugly Christmas sweater is sourced through spirited creativity and resourceful vision. Many aspire to be a part of the jingle bell sweaters of yore, by thrifting or borrowing an original. Others invent that same nostalgia, in making their own. It seems the more quirky – the better. Add jingle bells, tinsel, or lights to make it 3D. (Bonus points!)

Parting Words

Don we now our ugly sweaters, remembering how Christmas spirit connects us in the past and the present. 

And with that – we bid you ado! Merry Christmas!


Berry, Allison. “A Brief History of the Ugly Christmas Sweater.” Time. December 22, 2011.

Cerini, Marianna. “A Cozy History of the Ugly Sweater.” CNN. December 21, 2021.

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