TAMPA — Nicole Connor was looking for the right clothes to wear to a party this weekend when she entered a local business this week.
"If I’m going to a Christmas party, I am going to wear an ugly sweater," said the executive assistant at the Tampa Bay History Center, explaining the event would feature watching a movie, eating, drinking and exchanging presents.
On Monday, she stopped in at an Ugly Christmas Sweater party sponsored by Valhalla Resale store in Seminole Heights and started looking through the selection of sweaters, T-shirts, vests and blouses.
"I think it’s kitschy," Connor said. "At one time they were part of a wardrobe. But now they are a bit of throwback."
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She’s not alone. Ugly Christmas sweaters have taken over and are seen everywhere in high-end designer stores (with celebrity names such as Whoopi Goldberg), department stores, thrift stores and online.
Some are vintage, worn 20 or more years ago; some are new with NFL team logos matched with candy canes. Cartoons, television and movie characters are popular with the Rick and Morty Happy Human Holiday Ugly Christmas Sweater a top seller.
Even the dogs got in on the celebration this week when a charity hosted the first Ugly Sweater Paw-ty at Irish 31 Hyde Park. Several pet centers and discount stores stocked ugly sweaters for dogs this year.
Karen Hubby, outreach coordinator for Vets4Pets, which organized the pet Paw-ty, said of the canine attendees who wore sweaters, scarves, Santa outfits and king costumes: "Any reason for a get together with people and their animals is great."
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No one is sure exactly how Ugly Sweater Parties started but the 2001 book "Ugly Christmas Sweater Party Book: The Definitive Guide to Getting Your Ugly On" was a factor, as was a party in 2002 in the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver, Canada.
Designers began to introduce new motifs and in 2011, National Ugly Christmas Sweater Day was established. It is celebrated on the third Friday of December each year, which this year is Dec. 15.
On Saturday (Dec. 9), in Detroit there will be an official Guinness World Records attempt for the largest gathering of people wearing holiday sweaters and jumpers. The current record is 3,473 individuals, set in Kansas in 2015.
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Most people wear the sweaters to parties, hosted by friends, businesses or nonprofit organizations.
The fundraising nonprofit group 13 Ugly Men will sponsor its second Ugly Sweater Party on Dec. 15 at the new Hall on Franklin, where the organization has secured the entire facility for the event.
David Moyer, president of the group, said last year’s inaugural event drew about 700 guests and the organizers hope for about 1,000 this year. Proceeds will benefit the Ryan Nece Foundation.
"All our parties are theme-oriented and our goal is to make it bigger and better each year," Moyer said, adding that this year there will be an outdoor holiday market and dancing in The Hip Room above the Hall on Franklin.
Unlike some parties, there is no judging of the sweaters at the 13 Ugly Men event.
"We just are trying to put a little fun into the holidays and want everyone to take it to the next level," Moyer said.
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People acquire the sweaters and T-shirts in different ways. Some are handed down from their parents; some are bought new and some are bought used. Some can be found for less than $5 and some are $80 or more. This year, stores also are carrying Ugly Sweater dresses.
Valhalla Resale store owner Danielle Ferrari said she has had a lot of requests for the vintage sweaters, which she sells for $12 to $24.
"They are really just fun, goofy and silly," said Ferrari, who opened her business in February. "I went all over the country and found them in thrift stores. I hit the jackpot in Atlanta."
Contact Lenora Lake at [email protected]