15 Ugly Christmas sweater party ideas

What’s not to love about a Christmas party that encourages you to come cozy, get toasty, and celebrate the season in a very low-key (and potentially lowbrow) way? Nothing, if you ask around the Paperless Post office. An ugly sweater party is fair game for your team’s holiday happy hour, Christmas Eve with the family, or an all-night house party with varying debauchery levels. Ahead, we’ll dive into our best party ideas, including the newest ugly sweater party invitations, tried-and-true decorations, the down-low on DIY ugly sweaters, and the best holiday party games.

What is an ugly sweater party?

Guests are encouraged (or required!) to wear ugly sweaters, but it’s more of a spirit than a party prescription. The allure of an ugly Christmas sweater party is that everything is in bad taste—from the dress code to the evening’s activities and the menu. It’s freeing after a season of formal parties, heels, and good behavior. Once guests arrive, what you do next is up to you: karaoke, games, a sweater contest, or even a gift exchange.


When did ugly sweater parties start?

You’re probably wondering how this fascination with ugly sweaters started in the first place. As the holiday becomes more commercialized in the 1950s, people began adding jingle bells to Christmas sweaters. Then came the ugly sweaters of classic 1980s sitcom families like the Huxtables. In 1989 Chevy Chase’s ugly sweaters in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation walked a fine line of earnest and ironic. Then Colin Firth’s reindeer sweater in Bridget Jones’ Diary was unfortunate. The first recorded ugly sweater party took place in 2002 at the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver, and it has become a mainstay ever since.


The ugly sweater party invitation 

Set the tone for your party with the perfect invitation; our ugly sweater party invitations are a favorite year after year. We have a range of styles—from sweet to very saucy. Let guests know if ugly sweaters are required (they are) with the invitation and if there will be a contest, as a little spirited competition can give people a nudge to buy or DIY their ugly sweater. The wording of your invitation will let guests know what kind of party to expect. For example, phrases like “It’s going to get ugly,” “Who is the ugliest of them all?” or “Holiday sweater get together” are great.

With our classic card invitations, you can invite a co-host, set maximum capacity in advance, and reply to individual guests at any time.  Our holiday Flyers are modern templates you can customize in seconds by adjusting the colors and style or adding text effects, GIFs, or a photo. They’re free to send via SMS, WhatsApp, your email, or send through Paperless Post. And your first 50 emails are free. Both invitations allow you to track RSVPs and follow up with guests.

ugly Christmas sweater invitations from Paperless Post featuring a patchwork ugly sweater and animals in ugly sweaters

Ugly sweater party invitations: “Patchwork Party” invitation by Paperless Post, “Sweater Party Animals” invitation by Hello!Lucky, “It’s Gonna Get Ugly” invitation by Paperless Post
Ugly sweater Christmas party invitation featuring that says "ugly and proud" and features snowflakes and Christmas treesUgly sweater party invitation: “Flashy Sweater” Paperless Post Flyer 

The good, the bad, and the ugly: creative ideas for your Christmas sweater party 

If you’re looking for a theme to lean into beyond ugly sweaters, we suggest going full-on ’70s basement. Think embarrassing family holiday photos and Elton John on the playlist. You could go the ugly photo booth route, but we like to keep it simple. Pass around disposable cameras or an Instax and take group photos next to the fireplace (or the crackling logs station on Netflix). Or go in a Danish direction with a hygge vibe complete with tea lights, smorrebrod, ginger cookies, and plenty of aquavit. 


Ugliest sweater wins: game ideas

Drinking games are a no-brainer, but make them Christmas. We love Christmas karaoke, Christmas carol Pictionary, or even charades. Or try your hand at the ugly sweater game: hand each guest an (unbreakable) ornament to hang from their sweater when they arrive. If someone says “holiday” or “Christmas,” the person that catches them gets their ornament. The person with the most ornaments at the end of the evening wins. However, if games aren’t your speed, have your favorite terrible Christmas movie in the background. Keep your retro vibe going with films like Die HardHome AloneNational Lampoon’s Christmas VacationScrooged, or Bad Santa.

Ugly sweater contest

It’s not an ugly Christmas sweater party without an ugly Christmas sweater contest. Have a few categories on the ballot and let guests place their votes in corresponding bowls. After that, hand out cheesy trophies to the winners for a grand finale. On our ballot:

Most Original Sweater

Best Couple 

Most Likely to Get Arrested

Tackiest Sweater


It’s going to get ugly: Christmas party food 

Now isn’t the time to break out the fine china. Instead, create a menu that gives you an excuse to indulge in classic Christmas party food that feels dated but delicious. Order fried chicken or pick up a honey-glazed ham for heartier fare. Or go with retro apps like shrimp cocktail, Swedish meatballs, Jello mold shots, pretzels in a bucket, or a cheeseball in the shape of a Christmas tree. Are you making cocktails for a crew? Mix a large batch of eggnog or rum punch and then serve in the largest bowl you have. 


What do you wear to an ugly sweater party?

There is no shortage of ugly sweaters out there. We found everything from sports teams to southwestern vibes, pizza cats, naughty gingerbread men, and a lot of NSFW Santas. Even ugly Christmas sweater dresses. If you’re attending as a couple consider matching or coordinating looks: two Christmas elves, Mr. and Mrs. Claus, naughty and nice, two snowmen, or Christmas pajamas. Finally, finish your look by accessorizing with tinsel hoop earrings or a pair of Christmas ornament earrings.

DIY ugly Christmas sweaters

The absolute ugliest Christmas sweaters are DIY. Hit up your closet or a thrift store to start with a mildly ugly sweater, break out the glue gun, add ornaments, led light strandstinsel garlandbowsand gemstones or an oversized Christmas stocking that conveniently holds a bottle of wine. Encourage all those guests that show up in tasteful sweaters to get into the ugly spirit with a craft station set out with glue guns, jingle bells, and tinsel.


It’s always the right night for a holiday party—browse our invitations to get started. For more holiday party ideas head right this way


Hero image features “Mirror, Mirror” by Paperless Post