Thursday, December 11, 2008

The great Christmas sweater showdown

Sometimes in life we get so distracted by the ugly things that we forget about the beautiful ones.

That's what shot me out of my bed at 3:43 a.m. Sunday. I jumped into my slippers (which my boyfriend insists are actually called "house shoes") and slid across the polished wood floors to the front door. Then, my reason woke up, and reminded me there was nothing I could do in the middle of the night. I would have to wait.

It all started with this "season of giving." Giving has been the theme of these columns for several weeks now, in an attempt to smack the Grinch right out of me. And it's working. I recently bought my first ever real live (well, now dead) Christmas tree.

I even started my own tradition: Everyone who drinks a beer in my house has to decorate the can with fur and feathers and puff-paint and sparkles and hang it on the tree -- a personalized ornament. I know, sentimental. Although the tree is starting to droop under the weight of the aluminum. I mean, it has already been four days. Or maybe it's the family of wine bottle cotton ball snowmen.

I also decided that instead of buying gifts this year (I swear, it's not the economy; I refuse to spread the hype), I was going to make all of my friends something. The only problem: See above paragraph about how I rock the ornaments. I'm not crafty.

Someone once told me that fashion is being yourself on purpose. That is, owning and intentionally expressing your unique character, and then boldfacing that. So as I sat gazing thoughtfully at my silver-sparkling tree, I realized what I had to do. I would give the gift of time. And laughter.

I'd invite my best friends to a tacky Christmas party. Washed-up boy-band Christmas music. Crackers and Velveeta cheese balls. Boone's Farm martinis. A cappella scat music karaoke.

And most importantly, ugly Christmas sweaters.

Which brings us to Satur
day. My friend Leah and I were on a quest to find the mother lode. The king of the royal line of ugliness. The most abominable of all snowmen ... sweaters.

We hit up dozens of thrift stores on our quest. By the end of the day, our eyes were watering from all of the sequins and our abs were cramped from the laughter, but we concluded with the Top 10 Best (and by best we meant worst) Holiday Sweaters.

See them all and vote for your favorite one on my blog,

First, there are the vests. Especially dangerous because you can layer a vest on top of a sweater on top of a turtleneck, creating a triple threat. Vests also tend to have buttons, which, in the world of Christmas sweaters, are never simply buttons, but rather bells, bows, snowflakes or, in one of the worst offenders we found, 2-inch-long stuffed snowmen. Yes, as buttons.

One vest in our top 10 is covered in jingle bells that actually ring. So not only can you see the felt appliqué Santas and plastic amethyst and gold stars from six chimneys away, but you can also hear it coming.
Arguably worse than an audible vest is the overly tactile sweater, such as one we found covered in large cotton balls (obviously a knock-off from my wine bottle snowmen ornaments). This particular offender also boasted a faux-chenille fringe collar and cuffs.

Then there are the Migraine Sweaters. These are especially prevalent among elementary-school teachers, which -- little-known fact -- is the main reason why schools close over the holidays; the kids all were going home, anyway, with headaches after staring at the overstimulating patterns. Our top-10 Migraine Sweater bursts with clashing snowflakes and stars and bells -- and even a handful of nonsense designs obviously only added to spark chaos in the frontal lobe.

We found one sweater that we suspect was originally designed as a torture device, comprised entire of gold sequins, the itchiest substance known to man, even worse than hair shirts for monks. Another homemade sweatshirt featured a triangle of red felt that looked like the love-child of Santa and a garden gnome.

Our winning sweater came as a surprise. From the front, the bright blue ramie/cotton blend and white poodle-fur collar looked innocent enough. Then. The entire back -- I'm talking 2-feet-tall -- was a embroidered snowman with a circus-clown grin. If snowmen had thumbs, he would've been giving two thumbs ups, and winking. As soon as I saw the life-sized Frosty, I knew he would be my date to the party.

But I never thought he would be so sneaky. In between the piles of Christmas sweaters, I found a floor-length black faux fur cape from the '50s, with a hood and satin lining, in immaculate condition. The beauty of this jacket nearly cured my Migraine Sweater headache. At any vintage store, the jacket would have been bank. But here, it was a mere $12.

So there I lie in bed, restless and unable to go back to sleep, now 3:40 on Sunday morning. Sitting on my night stand: the snowman sweater. Sitting in the dressing room at the ARC thrift store on Pecos Street in Denver: the fur cape. Ah yes, sometimes we get so distracted by the ugly things in life that we forget the beauty.

I was at the glass doors, all Mervyn's-open-open-open style, well before the thrift store opened on Sunday.
On my way out the doors, while clutching my new jacket, I bumped into Leah. Back to pick up that gold sequin-explosion blouse.

She swore it was for my party.

But the knowing glances that we exchanged contained a concession that we would never utter out loud -- at least not for 40 more years: That gold top would sure look mah-va-less under my new fur coat.

Photo by Mark Leffingwell.

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