Holiday Licensing’s Unlikely Hero: The Ugly Christmas Sweater

Once a running gag in holiday movies, the ugly Christmas sweater has come a long way, and the licensing industry has taken notice.

McKenna Morgan, Content Editor

November 20, 2023

2 Min Read
Christmas Jumpers
Christmas Jumpers GettyImages

Holiday movies have often leaned on the joke of the ugly Christmas sweater. From Mark Darcy in “Bridget Jones’ Diary” to the title character in the live action “Grinch” film, many have fallen victim to others mocking their holiday fashion choices. Now, rather than a social faux-pax, an ugly Christmas sweater is all the rage, with multiple licensed options.

Much like Gucci bags emblazoned with the word “FAKE” or Crocs made to look as outlandish as possible (like the recent Lisa Frank Mega Crush Clog, for example), ugly Christmas sweaters now fall under the category of satirical or ironic fashion, a trend so popular that in December of last year, it was covered in detail by VOGUE.

When you think high-fashion, what could possibly be less fashionable than a clunky, glitzy, over-the-top holiday-themed sweater? Pretty much nothing. And that, precisely, is what makes it so fashionable for the holidays. The irony.

The licensing industry has picked up on this, and in recent years, licensed ugly sweaters can be found all over retail during the holiday season. Take BoxLunch, for example. On its website alone, there are 240 licensed holiday sweaters and T-shirts, most of which have the classic knit holiday sweater patterned look to them, and a lot of them with the word “ugly” in the title. They carry licenses like “Shrek,” “Sonic the Hedgehog,” Studio Ghibili, “Dragon Ball Z,” Marvel and more.

Related:Consumers Maintain Holiday Spending Habits

Other retailers like Target have plenty of ugly sweater options during this time of year as well, from “Star Wars” to “SpongeBob.” Walmart carries Disney ugly sweaters from Jack Skellington to Mickey Mouse.

With work holiday parties, family gatherings, white elephant exchanges with friends and more, the ugly Christmas sweater has become the uniform for the holiday season, and the licensing industry has made sure to give consumers choices with all their favorite IPs (but make it ugly). But how popular are they, really? For millennials and Gen-Z, very. In 2021, The New York Times reported one in three people under 35 buys an ugly Christmas sweater every year, and two out of five of them are worn only once during the season.

Ugly sweater parties are practically a new reason for the season. The holidays are a time of laughter, joy and cheer, and what can be more joyful than seeing someone you love wearing the ugliest item of clothing imaginable?

What the ugly holiday sweater phenomenon teaches us is one of the biggest lessons in licensing: people want products that bring them joy, and that’s what this industry (and this season) are all about.

About the Author(s)

McKenna Morgan

Content Editor, License Global

McKenna Morgan is Content Editor for License Global. Based in the Santa Monica office, McKenna specializes in coverage involving non-profits, beauty and cosmetics, health and wellness, new and social media and entertainment licensing.

When McKenna isn’t covering the latest licensing news, she spends her time attending live music shows and finding her next travel destination.

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