STYLE

From ugly Christmas sweaters to designer wear,'tis the season for kitsch

12/05/2013 04:03 EST | Updated 02/04/2014 05:59 EST
TORONTO - It's time to carve out some extra space next to those ugly Christmas sweaters as an ever-growing slate of festive apparel and accessories celebrate kitsch as cool.

From gaudy glasses shaped like Christmas trees and menorahs to colourfully garish ties, many holiday revellers continue to seek out and snap up out-there offerings.

"I remember having teachers in school who would come dressed in their finest Christmas sweaters. And now, another generation has adopted those same sweaters, but in a tongue-in-cheek way," said Tyler Schwartz, co-founder of RetroFestive.

"It's just grown into a life of its own when people are trying to outdo each other with the craziest sweater. It's almost like Halloween meets Christmas in the sense that these parties are becoming dress-up parties when we go all out," he added.

"And it's gone beyond sweaters. We've got crazy hats... and glasses. And so the more outlandish and outrageous you can dress, the better."

Value Village store manager Christine Riddell said there's been an increasing demand year after year for the ugly sweaters in particular — so much so that when the holidays are over, they immediately start collecting them again for next season.

And it's not just limited to knits: Riddell said any garments adorned with sparkles, sequins, flashy colours, weird patterns and scenic embroidery are coveted. Individuals can also get crafty by customizing their own ugly sweater with bells, ornaments, tinsel or garland fastened on by using a hot glue gun or safety pins, she noted.

"I think thrift shopping has gained momentum over the last several years, so this could be part of it," Riddell said of the phenomenon. "But I just think as it gets more visibility and people are talking about it more, people are just seeing how fun and silly it is...And it doesn't cost much.

"It just instantly adds an element of lightness to the party and fun right away without doing or saying anything," she added.

Flare fashion director Tiyana Grulovic said she believes the enduring presence of ugly sweaters and the like is partly nostalgia, partly irony,

"It's also turning the perceived tackiness on its head. You inject it with a little bit of humour."

What's more, some notable names in fashion are also offering a quirky yet refined approach to festive style — and steeper prices to boot.

A prime example is the Christmas collection from luxury accessories designer Charlotte Olympia, which includes a suede pouch shaped like a Christmas pudding, a gingerbread lady clutch and heels with a detachable ankle strap adorned with gold bells. Items in the line retail from around $500 and up.

"I think the fact that you're getting these things at a very aspirational price point speaks a lot to the trend, because it's not that expected tacky kitsch that we've seen in the past. It's getting a bit more elevated," said Grulovic.

She also believes kitsch is having "a turnaround for the cool" beyond the realm of festive-themed fashions.

"Even looking at some of the resort and fall collections, you look at Burberry with those kitschy heart prints. Stella McCartney with her use of kitschy accoutrements for the resort season... lots of little lips and matchsticks and these cute, kitschy little icons," Grulovic said.

"That sense of playfulness is really back in fashion. It's really not going away."

Sharon Ng Hayes of The Backseat Stylers, a Toronto-based fashion and style blog, was invited to attend her first-ever ugly Christmas sweater party this season, and said she understands why so many have gravitated towards the style trend.

"People who are really fashionable who you wouldn't normally see in an ugly sweater suddenly appearing in something that's truly very offensive — I think it's kind of meant to be kind of tongue in cheek. I totally understand that. And in a lot of cases, it's really whimsical, too."

But Ng Hayes believes it's still possible to channel the cheerfulness and cheekiness while still being relatively tasteful, noting that she sometimes feels the styles can cross the threshold into too-tacky territory.

"I think the ones that get truly very outlandish and really very ugly — it's not ironic anymore. It's not funny or cute, it's just an assault on the eyes."

Ultimately, people seize on chances to have fun with fashion — and the holidays offer a prime opportunity to realize that goal, she noted.

"I think Christmas comes along and you have an excuse to be silly and wear something that's kind of improper that you wouldn't normally wear — and it's a fun, festive thing to do."

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Online:

www.backseatstylers.com

www.flare.com

www.retrofestive.ca

www.valuevillage.ca

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