Ode To Ugly Sweaters

By Natalie Ann Valentine

There is not much that makes me feel more like me than the first brush of crisp Autumn air on my skin.

I love all of it. The weather, the chilling of the air, the vivid shock of Fall leaves, the flavors (I’ll fight you over my pumpkin spice red eye), the activities, the clothes.

The clothes!

As soon as that first cool morning arrives, I bust out every single flannel, scarf, and pair of boots I own. And then, of course, there’s my favorite of all:

Ugly sweaters.

And you know what? I think ugly sweaters get a bad rap.

The popularity of the Ugly Sweater seems to have come from the popularity of the ugly Christmas sweater. In post-war 1950s America, the Christmas sweaters were called “Jingle Bell Sweaters”, worn without the irony we expect today. You couldn’t watch a sitcom from that era without a dad in one of the iconic chunky, bizarrely patterned sweaters, and the trend continued in the 90's with grunge.

Now, hipsters everywhere are wearing your grandpa’s favorite “ugly” sweater. (And me.)

To be fair, I have a soft spot for things that are traditionally considered ugly. Like, for instance, pigeons. And possums. I love them. I LOVE them. They are beautiful and perfect. This stems from a few places in my history, not the least of which is that I’m blind in one eye because my retina didn’t develop properly. It’s noticeable. People ask inane questions. I’ve always felt drawn to things that other people don’t like. Not in a hipster way, but in a “would it be weird to have a pet possum?” way. (For the record, I would love to have a pet possum.)

My dormmates and I had an ugly sweater party in college. I got mine from the little church thrift store on Roosevelt Island in New York City. It was scratchy, unevenly woven, and of a peculiar greenish shade with yellowish stripes. I qualify those colors with ish because it was sort of like looking at green and yellow through a gray screen. It was oversized and cut in that particularly box-shaped sort of way befitting your grandpa. I wore it with acid-washed neon purple skinny jeans and I loved it with all of my weird little 2008 heart. I wore it for a good ten years, and I am tragically unsure what happened to it.

RIP, OG ugly sweater. You’ll always be alive and somewhat uncomfortable in my heart.

That sweater is an anchor to a lasting fondness for so-called ugly sweaters as well as for my aesthetic, even now. Is there anything more comforting than a soft, warm, just-a-tad-too-big sweater with sleeves that go just a touch past your wrists? I don’t think so, unless you are wearing that perfect sweater while holding a steaming cup of cocoa in your hands.

I’m a writer and I work from home. So, I spend a lot of time, well ... home. Which coincidentally also means a lot of sweatpants and flannels and slippers and entire days without seeing another human aside from my husband. It’s something I love about writing from home, but I also miss picking out cute work outfits! This is where my affection for oversized sweaters comes in these days. They make me feel just a little more put together. A little more thoughtful and considered. It’s a simple way to take myself more seriously.

I am unshakably convinced that they make me a better writer.

I wear them with everything: skinny jeans, leggings, tights and a short bodycon skirt. I’ll even layer them over dresses. I love the look of a sweater worn over a collared shirt – especially with collar pins. Grandpa sweaters are the perfect opportunity to mix it up with something hyper-feminine like collar pins or a tight skirt. There’s something about that juxtaposition that adds a layer of interest to a look. Something unexpected. 

Part of my love comes from the idea that plus size folks aren’t supposed to wear things that are too slouchy or too weird and ugly-on-purpose.

No, instead, we’re supposed to be mindful of what’s “flattering” and assign value to the fruit-shape of our bodies. And let’s be honest – when most people give advice on what’s “flattering”, what they really mean is “this will make you look skinnier” as if that is the most important thing.

Not only do they make me feel good, but they also are a sort of knitted armor-against-the-world. They’re an essential part of my ongoing quest to wear clothes that express who I am. Even if I’m just working on a new play, with no company apart from a hot cup of coffee.

I love ugly sweaters because they’re a little bit of revolution on an ordinary day.


By Natalie Ann Valentine
Natalie is a playwright, freelance writer, actor, mental health activist, burlesque artist, cat lover, and all around weirdo located just outside of Washington, D.C.
Find Natalie on Twitter @NAVplaywright and on Instagram @natalie.ann.valentine.


1 comment

Love love love…how can anyone but Natalie write such a charming story all about an ugly sweater that becomes a comfort, a joy and a beauty, the sweater, the story and you just become more charming with every story you write.You are a writer…yes, yes, yes. I love that you are attracted to things others might not like…I am like that…so its a me-too kind of thing….Your eye…I don’t know whether to have empathy or in awe…as always when one “sense” is compromised…all the rest come together even more extraordinary. Thanks Natalie…I love this story! I dont wear sweaters, as I am unique with lupus and very sensitive skin that wants nothing extra touching anywhere….so we are all just cool to be “us”.

Judy Silver November 11, 2019

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