Value Village staffers Jesse Hickox

Ugly is hip when it comes to sweaters

NANAIMO – Tacky holiday sweaters can now be found in retail stores, Value Village and even one of Nanaimo's local bowling alleys.

It could be the only time of the year when ugly is actually a compliment.

Ugly Christmas sweaters are trending this season with retail outlets and thrift shops lining racks with over-the-top holiday clothing.

Businesses are mimicking kitschy sweater prints on everything from uniforms to disposable cups. People are hosting theme parties. Even the City of Nanaimo has jumped on the bandwagon, declaring Dec. 19 Ugly Christmas Sweater Day in support of the Now That’s Ugly Society, a not-for-profit which raises money for the Children’s Wish Foundation.

Those following the trend agree the sweater is fun, quirky and all the rage, according to Jordan Birch, chief experience officer with the Now That’s Ugly Society – and it’s just getting started.

Thirteen years ago Birch and his friend got matching penguin sweaters and helped host an ugly Christmas sweater party. The sweaters were rare then.

“You typically wouldn’t see someone wearing it unless it was probably an older person at a craft fair,” Birch said. “Now, I mean, you can’t go online or walk down the street or go to a Christmas party without seeing somebody wearing an ugly Christmas sweater – you just can’t.”

These days the party Birch helped get started is at Vancouver’s Commodore Ballroom and is set to attract 2,000 people. The society has also started an ugly sweater dash and called on municipalities to proclaim Dec. 19 as Ugly Christmas Sweater Day to spread the word about the social cause behind the trend.

“It’s fun. It’s an excuse to be silly and it’s an excuse to kind of be yourself,” said Birch, who considers the sweaters a social or cultural phenomenon.

“I would say the moustache for November, what we’re going to see in the next two to five years is the sweater is going to be representative of the holidays, culturally,” Birch said.

In Nanaimo, the kitschy holiday sweaters can be found at retail outlets like Urban Planet and Bluenotes, as well as the Value Village Thrift Store.

Luisa Rino, fashion stylist for Woodgrove Centre, said the sweater is playful, full of humour and has a little irony attached to it. It’s one of two “crazy” fads going on – next to the onesie – but not one she expects to stick around.

Cindy McKinnon, costume consultant for Value Village, said staff members collect ugly Christmas sweaters, vests and T-shirts with a range of tackiness throughout the year and begin putting them out in late November. Every day they bring sweaters into the store so there’s a new selection and they are in high demand.

“Even about four years ago it was barely a blip on the radar and in the last two or three years, the whole theme has taken off,” she said, adding if they run short on tacky, people can also peruse their odds-and-ends area to create their own.

Ray Brittain, owner of Brechin bowling lanes, has created ugly sweater-themed uniforms for his staff, which he hopes other bowling centres pick up next year. They will also be for sale.

“I just like the kind of kitsch of it,” he said. “Everybody has staff shirts, but to put on something that kind of makes you smile, I think that’s really cool.”

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