It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and amid a surge in nostalgia, the much-berated and mocked holiday knit is enjoying a moment of collegiate popularity on campus. Saving students the time and effort of searching grandma’s attic or thrift store racks for the tacky garment, several Barnes & Noble College bookstores are selling their own version — with a college twist.
The holiday sweater trend began as a colorful, homemade homage to the winter holidays and became a mass-market hit in the 1980s. For many, they bring back fond memories of a beloved kindergarten teacher or favorite aunt wearing a loud patchwork of knitted holiday motifs.
Today’s college remake sports more traditional designs such as Fair Isle, reindeer, snowmen and snowflake patterns, along with the school name — and it’s actually a sweatshirt. With prints that replicate the stitches of a knitted sweater, the ugly sweatshirts have been a popular item at many schools. “We sold these sweatshirts last year and they were a big hit,” says Janine Haslach, manager of the Augustana College Bookstore in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. “But this year, its popularity continues to grow and we have to keep re-ordering.”
According to Haslach, the “ugly sweaters” began flying off the shelves before she had a chance to announce that they were available in the store. “We put them out on the front display table and they started selling immediately. I even received phone calls asking us to put some aside until they could be picked up. They’re that popular with students and faculty.” Augustana College junior Amanda Marohl agrees. “This is the cutest, ‘ugliest’ sweater I have ever seen!” says the junior education major. “With all the social media and campus buzz it’s been receiving, it’s become a must-have for Augustana students and faculty this winter.”
That popularity also extends to alumni — some of whom graduated decades ago. Augustana tweeted about the ugly sweaters’ popularity, which prompted a reply from 103-year-old Hilda Evelyn Kottman, Class of 1942, who tweeted: “@AugustanaSD I’m probably your oldest living alum. I think that merits a sweater in size 2X. :).”
Kottman also offered to post a picture of herself wearing the school-branded sweater to “show her Augie pride.” Augustana’s Alumni Relations Office jumped on the challenge. The alumni office purchased one in her size from the bookstore and mailed it — along with a card signed by the alumni office staff.
“When the alumni office told us about this delightful story we were so charmed,” said Haslach. “Ms. Kottman is so adorable and we were just blown away by her school spirit — and that she’s on Twitter!” Keeping to her promise, the socially adept centenarian promptly posted a photo of her wearing the blue and gold Augustana Vikings holiday sweater, tweeting: “Thanks @AugustanaSD for my “ugly sweater.” I love it and I’ll wear it with pride!”
So what makes these ugly holiday sweaters so in demand? They are custom designed for each college or university, showcasing school colors and graphics that are unique to each school. “Our ugly holiday sweaters are sold as soon as I put them out,” says SUNY Cobleskill Bookstore Manager Jeri Usatch.
Located in upstate New York, SUNY Cobleskill is known for its agricultural programs. Its bookstore offers two unique graphics on its ugly sweaters: an abominable snowman and a cow. “We’re in farm country and we have many agricultural majors on campus, so we created a ‘reindeer cow’ with antlers for one of our sweaters,” says Usatch. “It’s perfect for our school and the campus really loves it. It’s just so cute; you can’t help but smile when you see it.” Who knew ugly could be so popular?