Skip to main content

Gulf & Main Magazine

Have fun with mom’s gift, great holiday event for home, office or school

You’ve gotten one. Every northerner has. It likely was a holiday gift from mom or an aunt, someone wishing that you keep warm and festive, thinking more about function over fashion.

Later you wonder if they weren’t laughing at the funny joke.

Remember unfolding the tissue paper in a holiday gift box … there nestled was an awful blue or green sweater embellished with a knit snowflake or a deer with a red nose?

Good golly, you thought, this thing is ugly!

You shoved that beast deep in the closet and tip-toed off. An ugly sweater rates with such bad holiday gifts as diet guides/weight scales, socks, snakes or a cat calendar.

About a decade ago, however, college kids pulled these so-called ugly sweaters off vintage racks, celebrating them with themed parties, honoring the tackiness, an oblique tribute to moms and their gift given with love.

Now these ugly-sweater parties ride the wave in Florida, says Ann Marie Blackman, founder of, a web-based Vermont company that a decade ago harnessed the craze selling ugly sweaters―Ellen DeGeneres verified Blackman’s intuition by staging an ugly sweater fashion bit on her show. Blackman has re-positioned her dot-com as an agent, directing us to other ugly apparel sellers, she says, which is profitable. “Florida [is probably] a little late to the party because of the weather,” she says.

And it’s not just sweaters anymore, Blackman says. Ugly holiday apparel today includes pant/jacket outfits, dresses, vests, more comic book and movie characters, more flashing gizmos and home decor, creativity miles beyond yesteryear, Blackman says. And much of the new gear isn’t too pricey, $70-$100 for store/web stuff, far less for do-it-yourselfers or vintage, she says. “Ugly” apparel is popular enough that giant retailers are latching on, which impacts the quirk-factor, and the little marketer’s pocketbook. “It’s just kind of unlimited,” Blackman says of what’s going on in the ugly marketplace.

A memorable ugly-sweater party is easy. There are innumerable dot-com listicles for how to dress or make outfits, tips for fun invitations and decorations, themed meals, drinks and yummies, suggested games, ugliest outfit awards and etc. The website Pinterest, for example, lists party, contest, design and DIY tip ideas, literally a thousand ways for adding quirk and excitement to the holidays. Blackman in the weeks ahead will log 15,000 or more unique daily visitors to her website. “I had up to 60,000 a day in the past,” she adds. “It’s more funny and less vintage than it once was.”


Mark and Fred Hajjar run in a Detroit suburb. The brothers had sold television-themed apparel and Halloween costumes until targeting the ugly sweater craze about five years ago, Mark Hajjar says. They first marketed resale items, but that quickly shifted, and their dot-com this year sells 150 or so “ugly” styles and embellished apparel, your design or theirs. The company will move tens of thousands of pieces, Mark Hajjar says, noting a top-seller is a female elf in a bikini hanging on a stripper’s (North) pole ($47.99), “or something edgy that Walmart wouldn’t have,” he says. Other catalog gear reflects GenX takes on traditional holiday themes―Santa, Rudolph, snowflakes and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The website has done well enough, in fact, that the Hajjars this year open a 30,000-square-foot apparel plant in Commerce Township, another Detroit suburb. The firm is customizing “ugly” and themed apparel for such giants as 5-Hour ENERGY and Cheetos. “We feel blessed,” Mark Hajjar says.

Which is a beautiful thing.


Ugly Sweater Party Suggestions

  • First rule: holidays mean different things, so be inclusive and mindful.
  • Think invitations. Good ones set the tone.
  • Awards, contests, ballot boxes, these are critical. And the point of a themed party.
  • Games/contests/ugly-sweater stories are great fun.
  • Ugly up wine-bottle labels and stemware.
  • Accessorize bathrooms and guestrooms.
  • Ugly cookies (and jars), cakes and candies to share.
  • Ugly kooziewear is easy to make.
  • Photo booths are great, an empty picture frame to hold works.
  • Ugly wrapping-paper walls add kitsch.
  • Christmas tree hair-braid/nail kits, face painting are kid-friendly fun.
  • Remember, plenty of festive lighting and music.
Written by Craig Garrett, Group Editor-in-Chief for TOTI Media.