Ugly Sweaters: The Perfect Theme for Your Office Holiday Party

Ugly Sweaters: The Perfect Theme for Your Office Holiday Party

Ugly Sweaters: The Perfect Theme for Your Office Holiday Party

Office holiday parties always seem to go more smoothly when there is a theme involved to break the ice and help people transition from work mode to celebration mode. If you’re looking for a lighthearted party theme that will cater in an unbiased manner to employees of various religions and cultures, an ugly sweater party is a great choice. It’s simple to build a memorable and enjoyable work holiday party around the ugly sweater theme. Twitter bird icon

Ugly Sweater Parties: A Brief Overview

Ugly Christmas Sweater 1In case you have somehow managed to dodge invitations to ugly sweater parties over the last decade, here’s a brief synopsis of how this type of party works. All guests are asked to wear the ugliest holiday sweater they can find, and throughout the party, guests laugh at (and admire) each other’s ugly sweaters. Typically, there is some sort of voting or judging involved, and a winner — the person with the so-called ugliest sweater — is given a small prize.

According to, which is clearly the go-to source for all things ugly sweater related, the city of Vancouver, Canada claims to be the birthplace of the ugly sweater party, serving as home for the first one in 2002. The tradition has really caught on since then, so chances are good that your employees are familiar enough with this beloved party theme to make a great time of it.

Planning Your Ugly Sweater Party

Scheduling and Sending Invitations

Ugly Christmas Sweater 2As with any theme, it’s important to schedule your ugly sweater party far in advance, since your employees likely have many other obligations during the holiday season. They’ll also need time to shop for ugly sweaters, so give a minimum of 2 weeks’ notice. A month is better. Send out invitations either by email or on paper, and in addition to basic date, time, and location information, be sure to include the following:

  • A list of ugly sweater judging categories (Good ideas are “most grandma-like,” “most easily spotted from across the room” and “most animals featured on a single sweater,” in addition to the standard “ugliest overall.”) Twitter bird icon
  • A list of the prizes you plan to offer the winners of each category. (Simple ideas anyone will appreciate include a gift card for a local ice cream or coffee shop, a holiday ornament, or fuzzy holiday socks).

Preparing Your Materials

Ugly Christmas Sweater 3You’ll need to decide whether you’re going to designate one person to be the judge of the ugly sweater contest, or whether you’re going to have your attendees vote on the ugliest sweaters. If you’re thinking of making an ugly sweater party a yearly event in your office, you may want to make the tradition of designating a new judge each year. Perhaps the person with the highest sales quota or the best attendance record could be designated judge. This could turn into an opportunity for some friendly, good-for-business competition between coworkers, as they compete to be named ugly sweater content judge the following year.

If you decide to cast votes instead of appointing a judge, you’ll need to create a bucket for each category (ie: overall ugliest, most grandma-like, etc.). You’ll also need to create voting slips to distribute to each attendee. Make sure you give each attendee only as many slips as there are categories to prevent double-voting.

Planning Other Aspects of the Party

Ugly Christmas Sweater 4As far as food, drinks, and other entertainment goes, the sky is the limit. Since this theme calls for a lot of mingling (people will want to see one another’s sweaters), you’re probably better off having a buffet-style meal or appetizers in an open room, rather than a sit-down meal at a restaurant. If you hire a catering service, ask if their workers want to join in the theme and also sport ugly sweaters during the party. You could also ask that any band or DJ that you hire don ugly sweaters.

If you really want to take this theme to the max, ask around at local bakeries and see if any will make sweater-themed cupcakes or cookies for your party.

Including a Charity Fundraising Element in Your Ugly Sweater Party

Ugly Christmas Sweater 5If your office wants to take the holiday spirit to the next level and donate to a charity this holiday season, it’s easy to integrate a fundraising effort with your ugly sweater party. Ask if several employees have crafting skills and are willing to spend some time fashioning some ugly sweaters to sell to their coworkers. Once you have several volunteers, purchase a couple of simple, used sweaters at a local thrift store. Also purchase the supplies needed to deck these sweaters out in the gaudiest of holiday décor – blinking lights, hanging ornaments, fabric paint – let your crafty employees use their creativity.

Once the sweaters are completed, bring them into the office, and let coworkers know that they are for sale if they’re interested in buying one for the upcoming ugly sweater party. Twitter bird icon Let them know that the money they use to purchase the ugly sweater will go towards the charity you have chosen to donate to. Depending on how much you spend on the sweaters and decorative materials, charging $30 – 40 per sweater is reasonable.

Pulling Off the Ugly Sweater Party: Some Tips For the Event

When you’ve completed all of the planning and the party date arrives, it’s time for you to relax and enjoy the party along with your employees. Some tips for making sure the event goes off without a hitch include:

  • Make sure you encourage attendees to cast their votes for the contest categories early, so you can choose the winners and announce them soon after dinner. This way, guests who don’t want to stay all night won’t be stuck around waiting.
  • Take pictures of everyone in their ugly sweaters, so everyone can laugh and share memories about the party later.
  • As with any other type of holiday themed party, if you offer alcohol, pass out taxi information so guests can get home safely.
  • Have some stain pens and wipes on hand in case anyone spills on their beloved ugly sweater.

The ugly sweater party theme leaves a lot of room for creativity. You can take the theme as far as possible, offering tacky sweater-themed drinks and food, or you can plan an otherwise classy party and just ask that everyone wears ugly sweaters. At the end of the day, everyone will have a wonderful time and will come back to the office Monday still in snickers about that hideous reindeer cardigan or the pullover with real lights.

Emily Truesdell
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