Got a holiday sweater worthy of Ugly Betty? Surprise ... you're in style.
Christmas is over, and you're left with a hideous sweater from Grandma.
Your options: Ball it up and throw it in the back of your closet or wear it with pride at the second annual "Ugly Sweater Contest."
Started by INSTUDIO, a Stillwater photo studio, the contest has drawn entrants from all over the Twin Cities.
The contest, which ends Saturday, was designed to attract new customers.
They pose in their tackiest knits and mug for the camera. Then a panel of judges from downtown Stillwater businesses determines which sweater is the least fair of them all.
The winner, declared in January, receives a photo package valued at $500.
Why ugly sweaters? Because they're so square they're hip. Really.
Once regarded as the fruitcake of the garment world, the garish holiday sweater is staging a comeback. On college campuses, ugly-sweater-themed holiday parties are all the rage. And some thrift stores are touting their stock of vintage holiday sweaters.
Jody Nyenhuis, owner of INSTUDIO at 212 Main St. N., Stillwater, said about 20 people of all ages entered last year's Ugly Sweater contest.
Among the more, ahem, striking entries were the really bad '80s sweaters, the woman with the matching Chiclet gum sweater and Chiclet turtleneck, and the young guy with the Chips Ahoy sweater.
"It had cookies around the sleeves. I don't know who would've thought that was a good idea to make!" Nyenhuis said.
The ugliest sweater, however, belonged to Ashley Turgeon. She wore a red holiday sweater with a big Christmas tree on the front, a dog at the bottom of the tree and lots of beading, pearls and glitter glue. "It was trying to be and do everything," Nyenhuis said.
While Turgeon's sweater was without question ugly, it was not the worst, in some people's view. Nyenhuis made a poster of last year's entrants and hung it up in her store. Customers often look at it and point to the sweater they think should have won the title.
That got Nyenhuis thinking that she'd like to add something to the contest next year.
"What I'd like to do is set it up like 'American Idol' so people can vote, so it's a popular vote," she mused.
For now, she'll stick with having three judges who work in downtown Stillwater. One is a clothing buyer, another is an artist, and the third will be someone who doesn't come from the apparel world.
The idea for the contest came up in a conversation with her staff last fall. "My bookkeeper said we should hold a contest for the ugliest sweater," Nyenhuis said. "I thought, 'What a great idea.'"
There's no entrance fee, except perhaps "embarrassment," she joked. And you don't even have to wear a holiday sweater. It can be anything -- so long as it's ugly.
The only other rule is that contestants have to wear the sweater to the studio. "They can take it off when they leave if they're too embarrassed," she said.
But Nyenhuis has noticed there's unexpected freedom in wearing something that you know looks so bad. People being photographed are often nervous, and very self-critical when they look at the resulting pictures. But the ugly sweaters seem to loosen up people in front of the camera, Nyenhuis said.
"It's like, 'I know this is ugly and I'm going to ham it up!'" she said.
A sign in the window of Ragstock's new and used clothing store in Uptown Minneapolis beckons passersby to come inside to get their ugly holiday sweaters.
Emilie Thomsen, store manager, first noticed the trend a couple of Christmases ago. A few customers came in and asked if the store carried holiday sweaters. Last year, Ragstock began stocking them, and this Christmas the trend is still going strong, she said.
"Personally, I like the ones with bells on them so they make noise when you're walking," she said.
Allie Shah • 651-298-1550