Can the Ugly Sweater Craze Sleigh the Inflation Grinch? 

Christmas sweater

While the holiday season brings a myriad of traditions and festivities, one of the quirkiest yet arguably beloved is the ugly sweater phenomenon.

While some may not fully grasp its appeal, others are enamored with the trend. But what sparked this festive fashion, and is the holiday hype still rocking around the Christmas tree today, especially as inflation tries to “Grinchify” consumer wallets?

From Humble Beginnings to Seasonal Trend 

What started as a playful and often humorous way to celebrate the spirit of the season has evolved into a seasonal trend that captivates consumers. This peculiar tradition has not only stood the test of time but has also become a staple of the holiday season, with both individuals and brands actively participating in the festivities.

Ugly Christmas sweaters burst onto the scene in the 1950s, according to the Ugly Christmas Sweater company, coinciding with the mass commercialization of Christmas. Initially dubbed “Jingle Bell Sweaters,” these garments showcased subtle Christmas-themed embellishments. Contrary to their later reputation, the original ugly Christmas sweaters were far from intentionally “ugly” and were characterized by artistic designs.

While the trend maintained a modest media presence until the 1980s, its popularity soared significantly when it made its way onto television screens.

Fast forward to the present day, and the ugly sweater has transitioned from being a homespun novelty to a seasonal trend.

Ugly sweater gatherings are now a familiar fixture in holiday festivities, with individuals showcasing their quirkiest knits in the spirit of festive joy. The attraction lies in the pure nostalgia and merriment associated with these garments, and people willingly welcome the bold aesthetics with open arms.

Retailers Seize the Opportunity 

The tremendous enthusiasm and affection surrounding this seasonal trend has prompted a multitude of retailers — from major players like Walmart and Target to smaller establishments — to offer a wide variety of ugly sweaters.

Take Tipsy Elves, for instance — a company that earned acclaim through its feature on ABC’s “Shark Tank.” Since its inception in 2011, it has achieved remarkable success, racking up sales exceeding $125 million. Another contender in the market, Fashion Avenue, touts an estimated annual sale of around 6 million holiday sweaters.

The success of these companies is partly attributed to a cultural inclination that encourages enthusiasts of ugly sweaters to acquire a new garment adorned with the latest designs each year. This tradition not only sustains the demand for these whimsical garments but also contributes to the ongoing expansion of the thriving ugly sweater industry.

An interesting turn in the story emerges as brands from beyond the apparel realm delve into this sector. One noteworthy instance is a collaboration between Reddi-wip and Ugly Christmas Sweater, unveiling a unique limited-edition collection that includes sweaters for both humans and pets.

With a festive theme, the matching sweaters playfully mimic the vibrant Reddi-wip can, showcasing whimsical designs like a hoodie resembling a dollop of whipped cream. The human-sized sweater features two elongated pockets, perfect for carrying two Reddi-wip cans for on-the-go enjoyment. The pet-friendly version includes a small, zippered pocket, ideal for stashing a treat for your furry friend, accompanied by a coordinating winter hat.

“We’re excited to bring a new level of fun and warmth to pets and their owners this holiday season,” Lindsay Brady, vice president and general Manager, sides, sweets and snacks, at Reddi-wip owner Conagra Brands, said in a Wednesday (Nov. 15) press release. “We know people enjoy celebrating moments big and small with their beloved pets and think our new Reddi-wip sweater collection is the perfect thing to wear for their holiday cards.”

Then there’s 7-Eleven, which has introduced its own lineup of ugly sweaters featuring its iconic Slurpee.

“After some epic 7Collection drops in 2023, we’re closing out the year with new holiday apparel and accessories that will be on every 7-Eleven superfan’s wish list,” 7-Eleven Executive Vice President, Chief Marketing and Sustainability Officer Marissa Jarratt said in a Tuesday (Nov. 14) press release.

And while not exactly a wearable ugly sweater for consumers, Home Depot is currently offering shoppers the Grinch in Ugly Sweater inflatable that declares, “All Your Sweaters Are Ugly.”

So, are you planning to join the ugly sweater trend this year? Or is inflation tightening your wallet?

Also read: 45% of Consumers Hardest Hit by Inflation Carry Revolving Credit Card Balances