The obsessive interest in ugly sweaters during the holidays has gotten out of hand. People are making fun of clothing embellished with bows and bells and furry knitted kittens peeking out of 3-D stockings. They are laughing at Santa’s upside-down feet sticking out of a chimney, angels sweetly singing o’er the fuzzy plain, and an entire Currier and Ives scene embroidered on a knitted garment. They think a sparkly snowflake turtleneck worn with a matching woolen snowman cardigan with little Frostys dancing down each sleeve is nerdy.
I quote my sister Janet: “Nerd is not a dirty word.” Still, because of the reputation theme sweaters have developed over the past few years, I can no longer wear my festive holiday wardrobe without getting dressed down, so to speak, by my friends.
They have my best interest at heart. I know that. They aim to save me from embarrassing myself when I want to wear my green sweater with reindeer flying across my chest, Rudolph leading the way with a real light-up nose. But I like my theme sweaters. They aren’t raggedy since they are only worn those few short weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas each year. And they made all the holiday socializing feel just a little more festive. They are happy. Fun. Merry and bright.
This fashion wasn’t always considered in bad taste. The festive, cute Christmas sweaters were all the rage in the ’80s and ’90s. Recently, I saw a 15-year-old photo of a group of women at a holiday luncheon. I’d guess 90 percent of them were wearing theme sweaters — sincerely and with all their fashion-minded hearts. The photo epitomized holly jolly. Nobody was pointing at anybody while covering her mouth to hide a mocking smile. I had Christmas sweater envy just looking at the array of options that used to be available.
I miss those days. I want to wear my festive apparel seriously, not as a joke. And I don’t like seeing fake ugly sweaters on the racks at department stores, ineffectively making fun of my once-fashionable wardrobe. If someone’s going to wear an ugly sweater, it must be authentic. Intentional unloveliness, like full-sized tree ornaments hanging from your chest, is not what we wore at the height of the Christmas sweater craze. Knock off the knockoffs!
Those of the younger generation are beginning to think it looks a lot like Christmas only when they get invited to an ugly sweater party. Making fun of their parents’ holiday attire is as much a part of their annual Christmas custom as listening to Mariah Carey singing “All I Want for Christmas is You.” (Gag me with a spoon. Give me Perry Como singing “Silent Night,” please.) When millennials go to a more traditional holiday party, they wear the same old clothes they wear to any other party or to the grocery store or the dentist. Borrr-iiing.
I’ve wondered how far the adorn scorn reaches. Is the necktie with the Grinch and little Cindy Lou Who on it still acceptable? How about red, white and green striped socks? Can I wear my theme earrings — the Christmas trees my now-deceased mother-in-law gave me when I first was married? The bells that jingle when I shake my head? Or have these too become geeky?
My quandary goes beyond Christmas. I want to wear my heart sweater on Valentine’s Day, my bunny vest for Easter and my jack-o’-lantern earrings for Halloween. Should I wear my floods as well? (For the Gen Y’s, that’s what we called pants that were too short.)
The answer is in the figgy pudding: I’m not just a Christmas nerd; I’m a nerd the whole year through.
Sarah Donohoe is pleased to wear vintage clothing as a historic interpreter at the Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop & Farm in Olathe. She lives in Lenexa.