Selections of holiday wear for sale at Alley Vintage & Costume shop, in Columbus.
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COLUMBUS — Searching the racks of a new shop near the Ohio State University campus, Justine Boggs discovered the perfect holiday top: a denim button-down adorned with embroidered bells, candy canes and a strand of lights.
She had to have it.
“It encompasses Christmas in the ugliest way possible,” said Boggs, 22, of the campus area.
“Honestly, can we get any uglier?”
Something festively hideous is just what she needed for a charitable event based on “ugly Christmas sweaters.”
She found the $8 gem at Christmisc., a temporary South Campus Gateway store dedicated to tacky holiday sweaters and similarly tacky gifts.
The hunt for attire with sequined reindeer and festive snowmen is apparently on the uptick.
“It’s been around for a little while,” Christmisc. owner Nate DeMars said of the “ugly sweater” theme for Christmas parties.
“But now it’s entrenched as a mainstream holiday tradition.”
The past two Christmases, DeMars sold seasonal attire at the men’s suit store he owns called Pursuit — with sweaters “a big hit,” he said.
With the opening of the next-door space, which previously housed a campaign office for Barack Obama, DeMars secured a short-term lease and outfitted a shop with fake Christmas trees, cutout snowflakes and large candy canes.
To amass his kitschy collection of 1,200 — the shirts and sweaters cover a range from “jolly to heinous to straight out of Mrs. Claus’ closet” — he devoted six months to scouring thrift stores beyond central Ohio.
He also accepted donations, including some from relatives: his mother, an aunt and a grandmother from chilly Wisconsin.
He opened the store on Nov.?20, he said, and in the first three days sold more than 200 sweaters, which he prices at $8 to $38.
“We’ve developed an eye for what’s ugly — and what’s not,” DeMars said. “The more outlandish, the better.”
His favorite find? A sweater depicting the dozen gifts highlighted in the song The Twelve Days of Christmas.
Like him, others, too, are responding to the demand for garish seasonal wear.
“It’s what everybody is looking for,” said Josh Harden, the 32-year-old owner of the mobile pop-up store Ghetto Vintage — and, since June, Clothing Underground, a resale shop in the OSU area.
Combined, the ventures carry several hundred eye-popping sweaters.
Harden, though initially worried that the trend might have outlived itself, spent a year scouting a collection spanning basic $10 jumpers to pricier options “covered from top to bottom in stitching and applique.”
“The kids on campus, the fraternities and sororities, they’ve all been coming in and stocking up,” he said.
In the Clintonville neighborhood, Rag-O-Rama has seen earlier-than-usual interest in similar seasonal apparel, said Vance Whitener, CEO of the Georgia-based chain.
Such items are popular at all four Rag-O-Rama stores — even the one in balmy Tempe, Ariz., he said.
“We’re already replenishing the racks,” said Whitener, who has sought used Christmas sweaters for five years — and in recent weeks has noticed other retailers selling such goods at premium prices.
(His go for about $8 to $24.)
“Obviously, people are wearing them for Thanksgiving this year.”
Joe Valenti, who runs a Short North retro-housewares shop called Flower Child, has beefed up his stock, too.
He’ll peddle additional sweaters via a 1966 Airstream trailer to be set up during the monthly Gallery Hop.
A stand-in Santa Claus will share the trailer, with proceeds from $2 photos to benefit the nonprofit Charity Newsies.
The continued popularity of the sweaters is traced to an open-ended appeal, said Valenti, who also operates a Flower Child in Cleveland.
“There’s no expectation with a Christmas sweater,” he said. “It’s kind of like Halloween: Everybody wants to go and laugh at each other and have a good time.”