Whether the blame rests with National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation or Bridget Jones’s Diary, the Ugly Christmas Sweater party has become an institution. There are no fewer than 10 such events advertised for the week ahead in the Missoula area. They range from Ugly Christmas Sweater skates at Glacier Ice Rink to a charity benefit to a night with free cajun food at Larry’s Six Mile Tavern in Huson. Each event is an occasion to don that bedazzled or appliqued holiday nightmare you bought “as a joke” at the thrift store.

One of the dumber side effects of the Ugly Christmas Sweater’s longevity (and it does seem like this quasi-ironic holiday tradition is here to stay, like White Elephant gift exchanges and “Die Hard is a Christmas movie”) is price gouging at thrift stores. Starting in late November, seemingly every secondhand and thrift store sets aside a rack just for holiday sweaters and outfits, marking them up at a premium. At Goodwill, that might mean $8 instead of $4, but at Missoula’s notoriously overpriced (and excellent!) Secret Seconds, that can mean up to $50 for a green-and-red ensemble.

Price tags with notes like “Retails for $300!” are outright insulting to bargain-seeking shoppers, especially when the sale price is $80. And who cares what it retails for? It’s not new, and nothing in a thrift store should cost $80. It’s a thrift store, not eBay. Even at the Bargain Corner, normally a place where vintage finds remain reasonably priced, there are sweaters priced up to $35 on the racks.

We don’t begrudge charitable enterprises for trying to make seasonal hay, but can’t they just keep it to Halloween? It’s almost enough to send you to Amazon, where $35 is more than enough to get a new sweater from the single-purpose company Ugly Fair Isle, or a solid down payment on a Slayer Christmas sweater.

But please, don’t do that. Brand-new, purpose-bought ugly sweaters are the lamest way to meet a party’s dress code with the minimum possible effort. They’re a Christmas version of a tuxedo printed on a T-shirt. The “edgy” ones are even worse, like bad Spring Break joke tees with a holiday theme.

The pleasure of the Ugly Christmas Sweater dies in the absence of earnestness—the willingness to stop being cool and just wear something goofy is part of what makes dressing for the occasion fun. Embrace your inner Mark Darcy and wear the sweater wholeheartedly.

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