Ugly sweaters are not new; ugly Christmas sweaters are not new either; if there were sweaters before there was Christmas (probably not) there doubtless were some ugly ones. Of course, as with beauty, “ugly” is in the eye of the beholder.
But first things first. The Encyclopedia of Britannica tells us that hand knitting of wool reaches back at least 2,000 years. The first garments we now know as sweaters came from the English Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey in the 15th century, when fishermen’s wives produced heavy shirts (jerseys) for their seafaring kin. The garments, made of natural wool, were warm, and due to the oils in the wool, and offered protection from damp.
The idea spread over much of Europe and eventually to the USA. American acceptance got a boost in the late 1890s when athletes begin to don the jerseys after competition to prevent the players from cooling down too quickly, hence “sweaters.” Adorning the sweaters with symbols of the athlete’s prowess — letter sweaters — made the pull overs even more desirable. From the playing fields to the fashion fields, the sweater came of fashionable age in the 1920s with Jeanne Lavin and Coco Chanel added sweaters to their lines of clothing.
Ugly sweaters are an ironic concept. The working term here is “kitsch,” defined by Merriam-Webster as: “something that appeals to popular or lowbrow taste and is often of poor quality.” In other words, ugly Christmas sweaters just try too hard to be cute.
The effort is manifest by an abundance of holiday colors — red and green, and an array of holiday symbols — snowflakes, Christmas trees, Santa, reindeer, etc. etc. etc. The honest ugly Christmas sweater comes by its condition naturally; it is not designed to be ugly even though it succeeds.
Ugly Christmas sweater historians (Yes, Virginia, there are such people.) credit Bill Cosby and Chevy Chase for bringing the ugly sweater idea to the fore. In the 1980s, Cosby’s TV show, which showed him in an array of rather garish sweaters, and Chase, in his movie “National Lampoon Christmas Vacation,” gave the “in” crowd or the outs who wanted to be “in” a new way of poking fun at social norms.
The fad faded in the ’90s, but made a roaring comeback in 2001 when a restaurant in Vancouver, BC hosted an Ugly Christmas Sweater Party, with a UCS being the ticket of admission. Since then, the phenomenon has developed into a mini-industry.
This season the Herald Democrat is sponsoring an Ugly Holiday Sweater Contest. Post a picture of you in your sweater until December 26, and vote for your favorite or not so favorite, and the best, or worst, of the sweaters will earn its owner $50. Visit http://www.heralddemocrat.com/contests to enter and vote.
Happy birthday Tuesday to Barbara Hames, Craig Alan Mullins, Barbara Franks, Charlot Hurley, Donoryn Freeman, Sharon Howell, Megah Jackson, Cori Reed, Misty LaBoon, and Elizabeth Young all of Sherman; Wendy Johnson of Fort Washington; Naomi Walters of Frisco; Natasha DeHorney, Patsy Smith, Wilma Sanders, and Avden Hunt, all of Denison; Linda Norris of Revenna; Bruce Davison of Fairview; and Kaye Johnson of Idabel, Okla.