Ugly Christmas Sweater Parties A New Holiday Tradition

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By: Christopher Kazarian
Published: 12/14/10

When is it fashionable to be ugly?

Most sane people would say never, but this month there is an exception—at an ugly Christmas sweater party, a somewhat recent phenomenon that is the antithesis of a black tie affair.

Invited guests are encouraged to pull out their tackiest sweater, probably hidden in the bottom of their dresser drawer, and wear it proudly as a way to ring in the holiday season.

Erik Bevans, owner of the Quahog Republic Dive Bar on Spring Bars Road, laughed that he once went to such a holiday party, but not by design.

“People just showed up in these ugly sweaters, but it wasn’t as a joke,” he said.

He even has a family member, whom he refused to name, who owns a sweater she will wear every December. It leaves much to be desired, he said, featuring Mrs. Claus wearing a dress dangling off the sweater “so it can flow in the wind,” which highlights one of the characteristics of what makes a sweater ugly:

“Typically it has things hanging off the sweater like a built-in accessory.”

Because beauty is in the eye of the beholder, or in Mr. Bevans' words, “the beer holder,” he and his staff are asking patrons to dress down this Thursday, and judge who, in fact, has the ugliest holiday sweater in all of Falmouth, with the winners receiving door prizes.

As to whether this type of theme party will remain as much a part of the season as Burl Ives and egg nog, Mr. Bevans was unsure, although he said, “I think it is definitely a movement. It is sort of like bringing the robot back,” in reference to the ’80s dance move.

Last month the Quahog Republic played on this theme by hosting an ugly T-shirt contest.

“There is plenty of ugly stuff out there, ugly T-shirts, ugly people, and we welcome them all,” he laughed. “People love dressing up for Halloween, and this is just another chance they get to do that. It helps take them out of their comfort zone, where they know they get a chance to be wacky.”

While many residents have probably thrown out their ugly sweaters, there is hope in finding one over the next few weeks at a local thrift store.

Barbara A. Marshall, the chairman for the Famouth Hospital Thrift Shop on Palmer Avenue, Falmouth, said last year that customers shopped and found such apparel at her store, although she admitted to being a poor judge of “what is considered ugly and what isn’t.”

“It is just a fun thing I guess people do,” she said, noting that her daughter-in-law went to one of these parties last year hosted by Liam Maguire’s Irish Pub on Main Street.

Margaret J. Buckley of Cachalot Lane, West Falmouth, who made her own sweater, tied for top honors at that event with Liam Maguire’s head chef David M. Mutti, who opted to purchase his on eBay.

His sweater last year was a white cableknit sweater with a stuffed Santa Claus on the front. He first shopped at local thrift stores, but turned to the Internet, where the supply is almost endless.

“Just go on eBay and type in ‘ugly Christmas sweater,’ ” he said. “You’d be surprised how many are out there. It is really amazing.”

Despite the cornucopia of unattractive holiday attire, he said it took him roughly a week to find one that would fit him “because I’m a big guy.”

Since his victory last year, Mr Mutti has not worn the sweater and is considering selling it on eBay.

But first he is looking to buy a new one for Liam’s party this Saturday, where first place could net those in attendance a $100 cash prize.

He said he has already found a few successors to last year’s sweater online, but has yet to make the final purchase.

Of all the theme parties he takes part in at the restaurant, Mr. Mutti said, “this is my favorite. It is very funny and people seem to like it. It is just another event where people can get together and have fun around the Christmas season.”

The Beach House in North Falmouth was the first to kick off the slew of ugly Christmas sweater parties, hosting one on Saturday. Owner Patrick H. Bonzagni said he attempted to have one last year, but a power outage foiled those plans.

This year he tied the event in with charity, collecting canned goods and toys to give to those less fortunate, while awarding a $50 prize to the most unsightly garment.

Although he knew he was not going to win the prize, Mr. Bonzagni said last week, in advance of the party, he was planning on dressing up.

“I’ve got some ugly sweaters in my arsenal,” he laughed. “I don’t have one picked out quite yet, but I’m battling between three of them. I think one of them is a turtleneck of some sort, with a deer in the snow.”

As to why these types of parties are becoming more common, Mr. Bonzagni suggested that “it keeps everyone in a festive mood. It is almost like Halloween all over again.”

Even at private parties the concept has taken root. Veterans Services assistant Crystal M. Knowlton and her husband, Daniel, of East Falmouth, will be attending their first at a friend’s home in Duxbury on Saturday. Those in attendance, she said, are mostly friends who graduated from Falmouth High School in 2001.

“We are all on the hunt for the ugliest sweater,” she said. “I got word that one of the guests has a sweater that lights up, so I have to beat it.”

She was unsure why ugly Christmas sweater parties have caught on, but “it is neat to have a theme for a holiday party. I think it is classic. Everyone has a sense of humor and you can’t take yourself seriously all the time.”

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