Finding The Ugly Christmas Jumper

As Save The Children’s Christmas Jumper Day saw its third year this year, Emily and I hoped to investigate why and how there has been a resurgence of love for the Christmas Jumper recently. Each Christmas sees various Ugly Christmas Jumper competitions and this year a festive jumper to represent all religions was released. Christmas Jumpers, in this instance, are incredibly interesting as they show a moment where people intentionally pick something ugly to wear. We thought it would be interesting, therefore, to collect images and oral histories from people to explain why they chose their particular jumper, why they found it festive/not festive or ugly/not ugly. I collected the following images and blurbs from a range of coursemates, tutors, friends and family. Of course, this sample is hugely biased and cannot be representative of anyone but these few interpretations of the phrase ‘ugly Christmas jumper’ – but all within the festive spirit!

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My jumper is not as extravagantly adorned with gaudy Christmassy images as some of the jumpers that I have seen this year, but I like to think that it still has a festive spirit. The bright colours of the knit and the Nordic pattern around the neck of the jumper are key to creating this elfish vibe! – Sophie Farrelly ©Joanne Pilcher

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Yoshika Yajima: Yoshika felt that her outfit was festive because red is a Christmassy colour and her earrings are candy cane shaped which is a sweet associated with Christmas. She felt her brooch was also rather festive as it is sparkly. ©Joanne Pilcher

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Not quite a christmas knit – but it is me on Christmas morning wearing every item I had been given for Christmas – and especially my new boiled wool pink coat. – Angela McShane. ©Angela McShane

Jorgo Fam

My mom’s side decided to have matching shirts made so we could take an obnoxious photo. The shirts have been modified over the years, but we try to take a photo with all of us wearing it each year. – Emily Foxen ©Emily Foxen

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Harriette Lane and Anu Lingala. ©Harriette Lane

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Why did I wear it? For a giggle, as I was going to see the Mousehole Lights and I wanted to ‘feel Christmassy’. I had seen a number of people wearing Christmas jumpers and hats over the last few days and I thought it would be fun to join in with that silly Christmas spirit! Do I think it ugly or beautiful? Given that the definition of ugly is something ‘unpleasant or repulsive’ then no, I think Rudolph is a bit of ‘funny frivolous frippery!’ ‘Beautiful?’ if we define beautiful as being ‘pleasing the senses or mind aesthetically’ well then, yes… it made me and my family laugh and strangers I met when out and about. However, I wouldn’t call it a thing of beauty. For ‘festive attire’ to be deemed as ‘beautiful’ it would need to made from a luxurious fabric such as silk or velvet, be beautifully cut or tailored and festooned with beads, sequins or embroidery but in a very ‘tasteful’ way, not a garish in your face Christmas image or message. – Debs Irvine ©Debs Irvine

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Liam Campbell. Liam sent me this image as he felt it suited the ‘ugly’ aspect of the ugly Christmas jumper. He bought it for a bad taste party a few years ago and does not think it is very festive as it uses typically summery colours and patterns, it is a blazer so would not provide much warmth in the “Baltic” Newcastle winters. ©Liam Campbell

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I got my first Christmas jumper about 3 years ago when they started randomly popping up at work. Working in a hospital can be grim at times, especially at Christmas. I think the jumpers are our way of bringing a little bit of laughter and cheer to what can otherwise be a rather unpleasant place. – Danielle Atkins. This jumper clearly references the popular Christmas film Home Alone, as well as exhibiting the typical red and white intarsia traditional Christmas jumper. Aesthetically it is quite tasteful but the ‘filthy animal’ message is obviously quite brash. ©Danielle Atkins

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This is the Christmas cardigan I had to wear when I was a shop assistant and was expected to wear something festive from the brand’s range at work on Christmas Eve. It is not exactly made out of the most warming and inviting of yarns so it really lets itself down on the jumper stakes. The reindeer intarsia seems to be the stereotypical Christmas jumper image but the black and brown makes the festiveness of it a lot subtler. My hat is far better suited to the winter weather as it is nice and warm, while many would say the colour is too brash, I like it. – Joanne Pilcher ©Joanne Pilcher

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I think Xmas attire is a unique blend of fashion and comedy…And sex appeal in my case. – Mat Capdevila ©Mat Capdevila

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My mother made this jumper for me but it has always just been too big! It started one size and ended up two sizes bigger; it was so heavy that she struggled to carry it as she knit. To me it is not very festive as in Australia it is summer at Christmas time so you would be crazy to wear a jumper, even though it was given as a Christmas present. I guess it has the kind of Nordic curve across the neckline that Europe would associate with tasteful Christmas jumpers. – Bruce Pilcher ©Joanne Pilcher


From this tiny sample of a few people feeling festive (or not so festive) one can see a few prevailing ideas about what makes something take on the role of ugly Christmas jumper. Firstly, there is the practicality of the jumper. One thing that makes jumpers so festive is that they are warm and Christmas falls at a very cold time of year, making jumpers a necessary thing to wear. As my father points out, however, this is very much a Northern Hemisphere attitude towards Christmas dressing. It would be interesting to look at what objects countries in the Southern Hemisphere choose to imbue with the Christmas spirit but I feel that should be a separate piece of research. Returning to what is largely an American and European attitude, it could be argued that the best Christmas jumpers are the most ‘jumpery’ ones, providing warmth in the cold winter. If one looks at the winners of ugly jumper competitions, however, they are usually the most impractical garment. I imagine that this 2013 winner does not keep one particularly warm and the train set is an electrocution hazard should you venture out in the rain and snow.

Perhaps then, it is not the ‘jumpery’ qualities of the jumper that make it an ugly Christmas jumper. Another element that has been mentioned is the sense of nostalgia or obligation. Angela wears clothing that she was given last Christmas; could there be some element of the gift associated with Christmas jumpers? Just think of the Harry Potter series where the Weasley children get a different jumper hand knitted by their mother each Christmas, these are usually garish and ill fitting, much like my father and his jumper. Do the jumpers become a Christmas jumper because they are given as Christmas presents? Whilst this could be the case for some Christmas jumpers, it definitely is not a rule for all. I bought mine for a shift at work because I had to and Anu and Harriette have photographed themselves in a shop; they have not even bought the jumper.

The Christmassy element of a Christmas jumper is clearly quite important, Debs chose to put her hair into the form of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer as she did not have a Christmas jumper. Danielle, Yoshika and I all felt that our jumpers contained Christmas motifs – whether it be reindeer, the colour red or quotes from popular Christmas films. What is interesting is that no one has referred to the religious significance of Christmas; what we are looking at here are symbols of a nondenominational celebration rather than the birth of Christ. Can we even call this Christmas? I think in this instance the fact that the wearers consider their garments Christmassy is enough. A discussion of a non-denominational Christmas is not necessary here, especially seeing as Christmas is recognized as being a combination of pre-Christian, Christian and modern traditions.

A really poignant thing in Danielle’s account of her jumper is the idea of using it to bring a little cheer to others, a sentiment that is echoed in Debs’ testament. It is interesting that Debs refers to her hair ornament as not ugly but a ‘fippery’, I think that this is perhaps quite insightful of attitudes towards Christmas as a whole, as this is a festival that falls during the most miserable weather of the year. Many of the decorations and decadence that appear at Christmas would be considered distasteful at any other time. It seems possible that these are acceptable as they do bring a little bit of cheer to the most cold and bleak months of the year. In this sense it could be arguable that the ugliest Christmas adornment are actually the most attractive ones, as they are the items that make people laugh and bring ‘a little bit of laughter and cheer’.

Whilst these explorations make it clear that it is difficult to pin down the essential qualities of an ugly Christmas jumper, I feel that their element of joy is powerful. One would simply not find a beautiful piece of attire as amusing as an ugly one! Danielle’s observation that she started seeing Christmas jumpers at her work about three years ago, falls with the start of Save The Children’s annual Christmas Jumper Day, as mentioned in the start of this post. Mat’s comment about the fashion of a Christmas jumper is insightful here, it does seem that Christmas jumpers have fallen into fashion. Why would this be? If we look at Danielle’s comment about brightening an otherwise grim situation, could it be that the rise of the novelty Christmas jumper coincides with the rise in unemployment and recession? It could be argued that a Christmas jumper is an easy way to bring cheer in a time of economic hardship. This seems to be quite a reductive way of looking at it. Whilst I agree that Danielle’s attempts to bring cheer in a hospital are probably very true, I think to apply this to a wider context and say that ‘everyone is poor so they are wearing Christmas jumpers to cheer themselves up’ is far too simplistic. I wonder if Christmas jumpers had ever actually fallen out of favour; we see them appear in Bridget Jones’ Diary in 2001 as well as in various Christmas films and music videos in the Eighties and Nineties. Pehaps the rise of the Christmas jumper is more of an increase in visibility – Christmas was once a time associated with privacy and family. With apps such as Instagram, which launched in October 2010 (a similar time to when we began to notice Christmas jumpers everywhere); the family Christmas celebrations or the office party have become more public. It has become a competition as to who can find the ugliest jumper possible! Happy Christmas, feel free to share your ugly jumpers with us.

Joanne Pilcher


  1. The answer of an exrpte. Good to hear from you.

  2. Intense heat does not stop the practice entirely here in Australia.

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