(RNN) – Why would otherwise sane Anne Taylor and J. Crew-clad Americans forego all fashion savvy to wear a knitted reindeer with a twinkling red nose - out in public?
Cover your eyes, everyone - it's ugly Christmas sweater season.
Every year, Americans spend untold thousands of their hard-earned dollars on ugly Christmas sweaters - the gaudier, the better - for the sheer amusement of it. And sometimes, for a really killer party prize.
"I think it is just a really accessible way to have a party," said Zach Nagle with The Sweater Store, a small business that bills itself as having the world's "largest selection of ugly Christmas sweaters. Seriously."
"Holiday parties are a little awkward for a lot of people and the sweater is an icebreaker. When everyone looks foolish together, it makes things laid back and it gives people a chance to express themselves through their sweater."
When it comes to ugly Christmas sweaters, "beauty is in the eye of the beholder," said Anne Marie Blackman, who at the height of the season, says she sees 30,000 people a day on her website, MyUglyChristmasSweater.com.
"Not everyone is coming in to buy. They see a picture on Facebook or on an article. They clicked [on the website] and looked around. They weren't looking for a sweater but they found something they liked even though they weren't looking," Blackman, who began My Ugly Christmas Sweater in 2008, said.
Whether to an impulse shopper or someone looking for the perfect balance of kitsch and sheer tacky, Blackman sells around 5,000 sweaters a year, which she said is all she can currently handle.
"I think the demand is higher. Next year, we're looking at making more," she said.
Not bad for a business that started on eBay with a mere 50 sweaters at the height of the recession.
"[It's] something that I started to make some money, but it's been successful enough to pay for the kids' education and also more," she said.
But in a sea of ugly, it can be hard to stand out from the crowd ...
"The competition is now fierce in the ugly Christmas sweater world," she said.
Blackman has carved her niche in the competitive sweater-peddling world by taking an already ugly sweater and ramping up its innate unattractiveness with extra fringe, bells or lights, creating an original work of, um, art?
"I was interviewed by the fashion guy from the New York Times last year," she said. "There was a couple of paragraphs in the fashion section and it was like ‘Are you kidding me?'"
Nagle says where his company shines is inventory - having just about anything awesomely ugly imaginable - and not just for Christmas.
"Do you want a red sweater with cats, a blue sweater with snowman? Do you want a vest to go with it with the scariest Santa Claus you can find?," she said.
"We have sports sweaters, cat sweaters, dog sweaters, Valentine's sweaters, Halloween sweaters … our goal is to have a sweater for every season," he said.
Competition aside, business is good when you peddle ugly. As long as that ugly is at the right price.
"I can sell almost as many as I can make," Blackman said.
Copyright 2013 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.
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