The Ballad of Ugly Christmas Sweaters

I remember just a few years ago I went shopping with my room mates for Hallowe’en costumes in thrift stores, blaring some new Macklemore on the drive and getting ready to “pop some tags”. Someone mentioned we should also be on the look out Ugly Christmas Sweaters, because all the good ones will be gone if we wait too long. And I did get one that day. A beautifully strange white turtleneck-sweater-dress with red and green patterns. I am very glad I bought it, for as my room mate predicted, even then a good sweater was getting hard to find. The popularity of Ugly Christmas Sweater parties in recent years has created a huge demand for tacky sweaters, and a number of businesses have recently been launched that solely focus on Ugly Christmas Sweaters. I remember watching a couple guys on Dragons Den (Canadian Dragons’ Den) even getting a deal for an online store that exclusively sells Ugly Sweater.  I wore this ugly sweater for a few years, and loved it! Then last year I was living in England and for some reason hadn’t chosen to pack my trusty sweater. So I bought a ‘Frozen’ themed ugly sweater from Primark. It was tacky and warm and I was convinced I would love it forever. I wore it to my Ugly Christmas Sweater party with pride. However, this week I noticed a Facebook ad on my timeline for Ugly Christmas Sweaters. I have already fallen in love with 3 of them (which I won’t post pictures of, because they may seriously tempt you).

I found myself thinking, I have already been seen in that one from last year and have pictures of it online. The joke is over, and it almost feels strange to wear it again. And here lies the problem. Why am I even thinking about spending money again this year on a sweater I will only wear one time?

I am a consumer. I admit it. And it is always at this time of year when that side of me is at it’s worst. Yesterday our American friends sat down to enjoy their feast of turkey and pumpkin pie, which means that today we can sit down in front of our computers and order all the things we want at huge discounts. Except for the people who actually still go to stores I guess….

Thanks to our global and connected world, Black Friday has been adopted by the English speaking world as a day for huge savings. It is exactly one month before Christmas, so those who are smart can use it to actually buy gifts they would be purchasing anyway. But there are a lot of discounts on clothing, which is an item you usually buy for yourself. It seems that consumerism, and fast fashion in particular, just keeps getting worse. We have talked about fast fashion, and consumerism before, as well as ways to be a more responsible shopper and really cut down your clothes environmental footprint. And here is another video that shows the problems we are facing with our culture of cheap, disposable clothing:


Research & Infographic by Hubbub

Ugly Christmas Sweaters started out as an environmentally friendly practice, re-using hideous sweaters from yesteryear. Now sweaters are being pumped out in November and dumped at the end of December. I have previously discussed the Patagonia “Don’t Buy This” campaign, which reminded its customers that they had great jackets to buy, if you NEEDED a jacket. However, this year Patagonia is donating 100% of their Black Friday profits to charities. This is still a good thing, and I usually try not to criticize when a company is doing something good. However I admit that I am a little disappointed in the decision to have a Black Friday message that promotes sales, simply because it is a huge step away from their anti-consumerism stance. Are they purposely moving away from this message? That seems to be an interesting move considering that research done by Hubbub shows that individuals are less than impressed with Black Friday, and Black Friday sales.

The solution is simple in theory: Don’t Buy This. Or that, or that! Unless you really need. I know it is difficult at this time of year, and it will only get harder as the days get shorter. But there are other things we can do! Of course you already know those things, so I won’t even make a list. But next time you find yourself looking at Joe Fresh or Primark, just remember that the low price now on clothes that you can only wear for a season ends up being much more expensive in the long run than investing in quality clothing.

There are also a number of non-profit organizations who are focused on this problem and a lot of cool things going on. If you are in Waterloo, head over to the Environment Clothing Swap on Wednesday November 30th. An annual even around Black Friday to remind people to buy less. For those of you lucky enough to be in Brighton, or London or thereabouts, there are a number of cool events being run by the wonderful social campaign group HUBBUB. #BrightFriday is the awesome alternative to Black Friday, with events such as free personal styling and a fast fashion comedy night! This past week they have put up a display so individuals can visualize how much waste is being created by this problem.

Let’s not let this reminder go to waste! Brighten your Black Friday and put the green back in your Christmas. Don’t settle for cheap & easy online Ugly Sweaters. Ban the Primark Jumper! If you simply must have a hilarious and topical sweater that won’t be funny next year, don’t buy it, get crafty! Take advantage of the UGLY in Ugly Christmas Sweaters.


If you don’t have one at all, go to Value Village and buy a classic that will stand the test of time (or borrow it out of your Grandmother’s closet).

Or do as I do, and pull an old faithful out of your closet to be worn with love. Commit to an Ugly Sweater and wear it proudly. Year after year. Until you die (or until they aren’t cool anymore, whichever comes first).

Can’t wait to see pictures 🙂

Happy Bright Friday!


Alison Carlyle is an environmental enthusiast who has recently completed an MSc in Social Marketing at the University of Brighton. She is spending all day not shopping and wishing these events had happened last year when she was still in Brighton 😦 Follow her on Twitter or LinkIn with her.

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