VANCOUVER - For years, sweaters bristling with bells, lights, appliqued Santa Clauses, snowmen and reindeer were mocked as the exclusive province of the tasteless at Christmas.
But the tide is turning and the ugly Christmas sweater has become the season's newest tradition and continues to grow.
"Right after Halloween we bring in the ugly Christmas sweaters," said Tracy Lynn the manager of Used House of Vintage, where street-level signs — one brandished by a man in a Mr. Peanut costume — tell Vancouver shoppers they can find "5,000 ugly Christmas sweaters upstairs."
"It goes up every year. It's definitely up this year," Lynn said of the amount of merchandise her store was selling.
"We're selling more, sooner, earlier in the season than we were last year."
Both Lynn and Stephen Peever, who mans a sidewalk stall, Ugly Christmas Sweaters, say demand had increased markedly in the past three or four years. They attributed that growth to more people having office and house parties featuring ugly Christmas sweaters.
"Typical day, I probably sell 15 to 20, on a good day, maybe 30," said Peever, at his stall at the corner of Granville and Robson streets in Vancouver. "People love them, and I can thank grandmothers around the world for that. It's really fun when you see somebody's face just light up at the atrociousness of a sweater."
His own stock featured crowds of apparently cloned Clauses, some rendered in rayon, others with fluffy beards, jingling bells, stampedes of reindeer, a sweater with four Santas cavorting on candy-cane ice skates and another with a family of three snow people, each of whom had lost a coal-lump eye, leaving them unsettling snow-cyclopses.
Most of the sweaters at Peever's stall sell for $30. Exceptional items — busier, tackier, more elaborate — are $40. He also offers T-shirts and sweatshirts with printed seasonal designs.
"They're tacky, they're good, they're cool," said customer Daigen Taylor just after buying two sweaters from the stall. "I figured I'd grab a couple. We've got some family coming down for Christmas. We'll get some good pictures with some ugly sweaters and send them to family."
Lisa Mitchell said she was hoping to find a similar pair as she looked through sweaters stacked six deep: "For me and my husband. I think I'm going to get us matching ones."
But that could prove difficult. Although his-and-hers sets exist, they seldom remain together. "I had one girl ask if anybody else would have the same sweater," Peever said. "Very seldom do I ever get duplicates. People want a match. I have to say I don't know if I can do that. They are like snowflakes — unique," Peever said.
But even as their popularity grows, some people aren't in on the joke.
"I've had some grandmother types come down and say, 'Oh, that's not ugly. That's just a nice sweater,'" said Peever. "Thank you for the trend. You're the one who started it."