published Monday, December 12th, 2011

Tacky Christmas sweaters fun for the holidays

Ashley Williams (left) and Britney Whittier joke about their holiday sweaters during the Young Professsionals Association of Chattanooga's "Tacky Chistmas Sweater Party" fundraiser at BMW of Chattanooga last week.
Ashley Williams (left) and Britney Whittier joke about their holiday sweaters during the Young Professsionals Association of Chattanooga's "Tacky Chistmas Sweater Party" fundraiser at BMW of Chattanooga last week.
Photo by Alex Washburn.

Ever notice those tacky Christmas sweaters that start showing up the day after Thanksgiving?

Once a staple of elementary-school teacher wardrobes, the over-the-top Christmas sweater has become an object of holiday fun and hipster irony.

There's even an online store, thesweaterstore.com, dedicated to tacky sweaters. The website boasts that it's the Internet's best source for ugly holiday-wear.

"Based in Minnesota, where ugly Christmas sweaters once roamed the prairies and holiday party circuits unfettered, The Sweater Store strives to find good homes for great sweaters," the website notes. The sweaters are priced from $15 to $75.

Celebrity Jimmy Fallon, host of "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" on NBC, jumped on the ugly sweater bandwagon. Every night for 12 days in December, Fallon gives an audience member a tacky Christmas sweater.

Chattanoogans are celebrating the popularity of the fashion, as well.

Last weekend, the United Way of Greater Chattanooga and the Young Professionals Association of Chattanooga held a Tacky Christmas Sweater Party and Toy Drive fundraising event.

Kelley Nave, 50, public relations director for United Way, said tacky holiday sweaters have become "retro hip ironic."

"The sweaters were hugely popular in the 1980s through the early '90s," she said. "I personally liked them. But, when I started dressing more professionally, I wasn't as interested in the Christmas sweaters."

She recalled that most of the older women in her family wore holiday-themed sweaters, especially to family Christmas parties.

"Christmas sweaters were something your mom and older female relatives wore," she said. "And because they wore the sweaters, they made you wear them, too. It's something you grudgingly wore to holiday family events."

Maggie Hodges, 26, a member of YPAC, said the tacky sweater party is a fun way to kick off the holidays. The organization has put on the Tacky Christmas Sweater Party and Toy Drive for several years, Hodges said.

"Last year, the men and women in our organization came all out with the sweaters," she said. "Some will wear the turtleneck, some wear sweatshirts, some will wear festive earrings. It's a good time and a lot of laughs."

Hodges, who works at Full Media, a website design firm in Chattanooga, said the festive sweaters set the mood for relaxation and fun.

"It is a really effective twist for us because we spend all year accomplishing goals in our careers and personal lives, ... the sweater party adds a lighthearted celebration of a year of hard work," she said.

Hodges said she doesn't own a tacky Christmas sweater. She borrows them.

"A lot of people say they bought their sweaters at Goodwill, but others dig through their mother's or grandmother's closet and find some 'gems.' But you have to be careful not to make fun of the sweaters, because the mothers and grandmothers may still wear them," she said.

Chattanoogan Josh Davis said he loves tacky Christmas sweaters.

"My mom has always been into arts and crafts, and she would wear the crazy, over-the-top Christmas sweaters with various things sticking off them like reindeer noses, fuzz balls, Christmas trees [and] snowflakes. She was always so proud of them, and I thought they were hilarious."

Regardless of their tackiness, Christmas sweaters are fun to wear, Nave said.

"Even though they do say 'Christmas,' the sweaters are goofy. But I remember when they were considered high fashion," she said. "My mother has a black, sleeveless button-up vest. It's made of wool and has Christmas packages knitted on it. The packages have bows made with metallic silver and gold thread. The bows are made of pure angora."

People who work around children tend to wear holiday-themed sweaters, Nave said.

"When I worked at the museum (the Creative Discovery Museum), the employees were really into the Christmas sweaters. You worked with kids and the atmosphere was casual, so it was fun to wear the sweaters. It showed that you had a fun attitude."

about Karen Nazor Hill...

Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...

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