Behold the Christmas Sweater Industrial Complex

The height of holiday fashion.
The height of holiday fashion.
Image: AP Photo/Carrie Antlfinger
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The combination of irony, nostalgia and novelty is a potent one. This is particularly apparent around this time of year, thanks to the inexorable rise of the cheesy Christmas sweater.

At holiday parties across the English-speaking world, revelers increasingly deck themselves out in garish knitwear—the tackier, the better. The UK’s semi-official Christmas Jumper Day is tomorrow, and next week thousands of Canadians will don brutal designs at the self-proclaimed pioneer of ugly Christmas sweater parties. Whereas scouring vintage shops was once the only way to find the kitschiest gear produced during the Christmas sweater’s original 1980s heyday, retail chains are reportedly moving millions of units this year.

Check out the steady rise in Google searches for Christmas sweaters, as tracked by Google Trends:

Image for article titled Behold the Christmas Sweater Industrial Complex

Another sign that festive sweaters are fast becoming a big business comes from a legal dispute between retailers in Ireland, as reported today in the Irish Times. An Irish online retailer is suing a British rival for allegedly copying one of its sweater designs. The owner of Ireland-based Zatori Results, Ronan O’Brien, claims that UK-based Shop Direct is hurting sales of a fetching snowman-and-stars number that proved popular last year, according to the Times:

He said the defendant’s garment was made of an inferior material, did not include the moon and sleigh and had apparently been selling very well. Zatori had had to lower the price of its jumper in order to compete, he added.

Big brands are also getting in on the act. Last month Coca-Cola launched an online tool to design Coke Zero-branded tacky sweaters. A wide range of bands—from One Direction to Metallica—have recently added holiday-themed clothing to their merchandise line-ups. Paparazzi shots of celebrities sporting festive pullovers are rife.

And beyond simply reimagining 1980s knitwear classics, some are giving the Christmas sweater a 21st-century makeover. One designer is selling sweaters with a display pouch for a smartphone on the front, so that the screen is visible. It comes with dedicated apps that play animations of crackling fireplaces, jolly Santas and cats singing Christmas carols.