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Vintage Purveyors Unravel Persistent Ugly Sweater Trend

Back in Billy Brand’s early days in the restaurant business, he and his coworkers would take bets on how many Christmas sweaters they’d see in a given night. Now, he’s throwing his own ugly sweater parties. He says it’s a way for young people far from home to create a corny family tradition of their own.

"Friendship groups want to have a sense of family within themselves," he says, "So this become an odd, not quite mockery of that, but an acceptance and inclusion of it."

Brand, who now works as bar manager at Heirloom in downtown Lafayette, points out in the days before camera phones, remember families dressing up in matching sweaters for holiday pictures. Heirloom wants to harness that kind of nostalgia when it throws its own ugly sweater party next week.

Even though the trend has been going on for more than a decade, local businesses are still selling as many ugly Christmas sweaters as they can keep on their shelves. Amused Clothing owner Robert Krusinski has a dedicated rack for them.

"Generally, the uglier the better," he says. "They typically have an number of things sewn to them or knitted as part of it."

The most elaborate sweater on the rack—more like a Hanukkah sweater—sported blue and white sequins, shoulder pads, and life-sized hanging silver pinecones.

Supplying the knitwear for ugly sweater parties—which are exactly what they sound like—takes planning. Lafayette’s Hot House Market owner Doug Rosen says his vintage store stockpiles the sweaters all year long and the store still sells out every season, with more people buying every year.

"The trend has just lasted a lot longer than I suspected," he says. "I usually expect, two or three years, but we’ve been selling Christmas sweaters now for the better part of five years, and it does not seem to have any inkling of slowing down."

He estimates this year, he's sold around 150 of them. "No matter how many we amass throughout the year, we continue to run out," he says.

The most prized knitwear is authentically vintage, preferably with dangling embellishments or the ugly sweater holy grail: lights. Both owners say because of the garments’ popularity, they can charge a little more than for a regular sweater, but because most of the people skew younger, they have to keep affordability in mind. Most cost between $15 and $30.

Even though a premium is put on the real deal, stores have started offering up new, copycat versions of originals. You can buy a Colts sweater from the NFL store for $50.00, and an ugly -- but officially-licensed -- Purdue sweater will set you back 70 bucks.

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