How to Judge an Ugly Sweater Contest

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Most of the year, being voted "ugliest" anything could be pretty devastating. But during the holiday season, having the ugliest Christmas sweater could win you both prizes and a year's worth of bragging rights.

Finding or making your own ugly Christmas sweater for a holiday party costume contest is challenging enough, considering the truly hideous garments some of your friends, family members and/or co-workers already own. But judging an ugly Christmas sweater contest might be even trickier. How can you possibly choose when all the sweaters are so aggressively ugly?


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Set clear parameters

In the years since these kinds of parties have become popular, some people have accumulated a collection of ugly holiday sweaters. Make sure everyone knows what you're going to be judging to give them the best chance at winning. When you're sending out ugly sweater party invitations, include information about categories and prizes.

Will you be choosing one overall winner or choosing multiple contest winners? If you're planning a large contest with dozens of entrants, it makes sense to come up with multiple judging categories. Ideas for categories include:

  • Best couple's costume
  • Funniest sweater
  • Best DIY ugly Christmas sweater
  • Most festive hair
  • Best ugly Hanukkah sweater


Where did ugly sweater parties begin?

So many cherished Christmas traditions have deeply historical roots, but ugly sweater parties are definitely a more recent adoption. Festive Christmas sweaters have been mass-produced in the U.S. since the 1980s, but a group of friends from Vancouver B.C. take credit for originating the ugly sweater party trend in 2001. Were they truly the first? Who knows; strangely, historians haven't devoted themselves to the study of kitschy holiday party trends.

Make a judging plan

Think through some of the contest logistics in advance to ensure smooth sailing on ugly Christmas sweater party day. For example, are you going to be solely responsible for judging the contest and choosing winners? If it's a big group and/or you're nervous about choosing winners on your own, ask someone to plan on helping you judge.


Also think about when you're going to make your decision and announce winners. One way to take some of the pressure off your shoulders is to use social media to help choose winners. You can snap photos of contest participants at the beginning of the gathering and then post them and ask your followers/friends to vote for their favorites.


This voting method could work especially well for a company Christmas party if the business has a strong social media presence. Post the pics on the business's feed to get some engagement with your customers.

Assess the contenders

Finally, it's party time! As people arrive, make it clear what's going to happen with judging. Will there be an "ugly sweater pageant" where everyone takes a turn modeling their sweater to the whole crowd? Or will you be walking around to evaluate every sweater individually?



Use simple score sheets to keep track of all the entrants. (You'll find printable templates online.) Award each one a score between one and 10 or use a 100-point scale. Make notes next to each name about what categories they could win a prize for. If you have other judges helping you, let them score all the sweaters independently and then combine your scores once you've evaluated everyone.



Even if you're not eligible to win any prizes, the contest judge should set the tone by dressing appropriately. In this case, that means you're going to need your own ugly sweater. Make sure you don't show up in the same one as a contest participant by going the DIY route.

There's a lot you can do with a thrift store sweater and a glue gun. Add a Santa or snowman out of cotton balls or just glue tinsel and battery-operated lights across the front. Or, combine the Christmas spirit with the Force by making a DIY Star Wars sweater, light sabers and all.

Award ugly sweater prizes

Bragging rights are great, but offering quality contest prizes is probably the best way to inspire party guests to bring their A game. Budget, the ages of the contest participants and the number of winners you're going to award will affect what kind of prizes you can award, but here are just a few prize ideas.


  • Gift cards for chain stores or local restaurants/small businesses
  • Themed gift baskets filled with things like local delicacies, grilling/BBQ staples or spa items
  • Bottles of wine or packages of gourmet coffee or hot cocoa
  • Gag gifts, like silly holiday socks or drink koozies shaped like ugly sweaters
  • Trophies or plaques—most adults haven't received a trophy or plaque in many years!

Ultimately, the most important thing to remember is that these kinds of contests should be fun! As long as the Christmas decorations are hung, there's delicious party food all around you and everyone's proud of wearing something ugly, the party will be a hit.



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