Can an Ugly Christmas Sweater Ever Be Too Ugly?

A Vital Piece of Scholarship on One of Today’s Least Essential Questions

By Sam Eichner ·
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With the ugly Christmas sweater trend still going strong, and holiday parties in full swing, I got to thinking...

I know a Christmas sweater can be not-ugly. And I know a Christmas sweater can be ugly. But is it possible, in this day and age, for an ugly Christmas sweater to ever be too ugly?

Join me as I search for answers to one of the least important questions of our time...

I began with a working summation of how ugly Christmas sweaters became “ugly Christmas sweaters.”
The ugly Christmas sweater originated in the arthritically nimble fingers of myriad grandmothers,painstakingly hand-knitting bright-red and embroidery-laden articles of wintertime clothing for grandsons and granddaughters who would, time and again, receive them with lukewarm smiles and empty promises re: usage. These Christmas sweaters weren’t ugly, per se; they were really just Christmas sweaters. But then irony happened. Like leeches, the hipsters drained this authentic totem of Christmas spirit of all its sincerity. Today, the Christmas sweater has become just another kitsch object to reposition as camp at apartment parties with vegan eggnog.

Next, I Googled “ugly Christmas sweaters.”
Below is a random sampling of my findings.

That’s when I started to realize something.
There seemed to be, from my extensive research (aka single Google image query and the indelible memories from several college parties I did not talk to girls at), a difference between vintage Christmas sweaters, which are ugly by nature of being vintage, and present-day Christmas sweaters, which are either modern-day simulacra of, or riffs on, “ugly Christmas sweaters.” (See exhibits A and B.)

Exhibit A: a vintage ugly Christmas sweater.


Exhibit B: a modern ugly Christmas sweater that depicts Santa Claus taking a poop.

A working thesis emerges.
If the metric for attractiveness—as it pertains to Christmas sweaters in the contemporary postmodern context—is ugliness, then it would follow that the uglier the sweater, the more attractive it really is. (See graph A.)

Ergo: a truly ugly Christmas sweater can never be too ugly, because ugliness is directly correlative to attractiveness.

The operative word there is the one that’s italicized to indicate the fact that it’s the operative word.
Here’s the thing: these modern-day ugly Christmas sweaters are not, by definition, ugly. By attempting to copy (or riff on) true ugliness, mainstream capitalism robs them of the grandmotherly genuineness that makes them kitsch; in so doing, these contemporary sweaters become something worse: they become tacky. And tacky is not ugly. It is just tacky.

My conclusion.
An ugly Christmas sweater can never be too ugly, but only insofar as the Christmas sweater in question is genuinely ugly.

Happy holidays, from an overly concerned Jew.

The original version of this article ran on December 21, 2016.

Sam Eichner

Sam Eichner likes literature, reality television and his twin cats equally. He has consistently been told he needs a shave since he started growing facial hair.

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