Knit one, purl two -- you too can make an ugly sweater

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Linnea Morrison and a handful of her colleagues at Boyd Technologies recently sat down for a working session that had nothing to do with their work. With felt, tinsel, light strings and glue guns at the ready, the group began crafting ugly holiday sweaters, those ghastly garments featuring oversized odes to snowmen and Christmas trees. The Boyd staffers would be competing in this year's Berkshire Young Professionals (BYP) Ugly Sweater Party contest, and their company had a reputation to maintain: Morrison took home top honors last year at BYP's inaugural sweater event.

"In my experience, the more obviously homemade is better than the store-bought," Morrison said of ugly holiday sweaters during a recent telephone interview, noting that a Columbia County neighbor helped her with last year's design (Santa Claus on a tilted bicycle).

Morrison wore the garment to a subsequent office holiday party, but she didn't gloat. "I don't remember it being of too much import," she said.

She's also quick to downplay the title now. But ugly sweater parties — and the bragging rights they afford to the less modest — aren't going away anytime soon. In the Berkshires, they are just beginning to take hold in watering holes and event spaces after years of being predominantly confined to offices and living rooms, according to BYP Chairman Jonah Sykes.

"This year it's happening literally everywhere," Sykes said before listing some of the Berkshires ugly sweater events he'd heard about. In addition to BYP's party, which will be held at Methuselah Bar and Lounge on Friday night, and countless others, Dewey's Public House in Dalton will host its second annual Ugly Sweater Party on Thursday night. And on Friday, Dec. 15 (National Ugly Christmas Sweater Day to some), Weekend Warriors Entertainment's Ugly Christmas Sweater Party may pack up to 120 sweaters into the Pittsfield American Legion.

"It's like the new trend," said Jackie Rivera, co-founder of the entertainment group.

Indeed, ugly holiday sweater gatherings have become such a widespread tradition that, while not as established as Halloween affairs, they can perhaps be considered cousins of late October's costumed romps.

Weekend Warriors had contributed to the Berkshires' ample Halloween fun (a Friday the 13th event) during the fall, but with holiday shopping and planning taking up much of her time in December, Rivera wasn't interested in throwing a holiday sweater shindig. Her business partner, Matt Pennell, eventually convinced her to get in the spirit.

"Matt is big on ugly Christmas sweater parties," Rivera said.

It also helped that the event would provide another opportunity for Weekend Warriors to give back to the community. Rivera and Pennell are asking attendees to bring new unwrapped toys and pajamas (for both children and adults) to the party; families at Elizabeth Freeman Center and Our Friends House will receive them, Rivera said, adding that party-goers will be entered into a raffle to win a $25 Target gift card.

While it's unclear when or why the ugly holiday sweater party has become popular around the U.S., its prevalence has grown exponentially in the last several years — and retailers have benefited. According to a report by Fast Company in 2016, the site UglyChristmasSweater.com made $4.8 million in 2015 alone. In 2014, it made $3.5 million.

Yet, for some, dusting off an old sweater that was given by a sartorially challenged relative or creating one's own cotton eyesore is more fun than buying a sweater from a store. The winner of last year's BYP event subscribes to this belief.

"I guess I'm more of a traditionalist," Morrison said.

Sykes said that sweaters deemed "the most gaudy," the only requirement BYP gave the contest's two judges last year, were often do-it-yourself garments. People who had some "electricity" (i.e., lights) on their sweaters also fared well, he said.

With holiday playlists, cocktails, food and additional holiday decorations, BYP's event should offer plenty of entertainment beyond people's outfits. A $100 gift card to Methuselah, a Canyon Ranch spa day, a one-day Framework pass and Festival of Trees tickets will be awarded during the night.

Those who have never donned an ugly sweater before (intentionally, that is) shouldn't count themselves out of the main event. Morrison had never been to an ugly sweater party before last year's BYP gathering.

"It's anyone's game," she said.

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at bcassidy@berkshireeagle.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.




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