Ah, the comfy sweater. You all have one, whether you want to admit it or not. Occasionally you think about donating it, but you just can’t do it. Maybe it’s like mine — old, green, at least two sizes too big, and shapeless as a potato sack. Or maybe it’s brown, or purple, or emblazoned with the seal of your alma mater or your favorite sports team.
It might not be a sweater at all; it could be sweatpants, a hopelessly faded t-shirt, or jeans so old and worn it’s like they were molded for your ass. My husband’s is a sleeveless, red, fleece hoodie. For a friend of mine, it’s pink, flannel pajama pants with pigs on them. Whatever form it may take, the sweater’s purpose is the same, and I think it’s time we celebrated this much-maligned garment. Some days, we all need to be dressed to the nines, but sometimes old, green, and baggy is just right.
Let me explain:
It’s about comfort.
First of all, this is not a ratty, dirty, torn sweater, nor yet a fancy, itchy, oh-so-proper sweater, nor even your favorite sweater, but an ugly sweater, and that means comfort. The prime requirements for an ugly sweater are softness, warmth, and what I like to call its snuggle quotient. Does wearing it feel like getting a hug?
It doesn’t have to be ugly, of course, but it should be old enough that you won’t mind getting it dirty. It should also be just enough outside of your everyday style that you won’t add it to your standard rotation of leaving-the-house clothes. These factors are crucial in attaining the ugly sweater’s primary function — maximum relaxation, minimal stress, comforting associations. The ugly sweater says I love you, you are cared for.
It is there to make you comfortable enough that your body can fade into the background so that your mind can get on with its business with fewer corporeal distractions. Stress is also reduced for me by triggering thoughts of couch time and cuddles. Whether I’m cranking out a paper, grading homework assignments, or mainlining old episodes of Xena and Voyager while I lounge in bed, the ugly sweater is the perfect combination of laziness and real clothing to let my brain get down to serious business while my body floats in almost-pajama land. And if I happen to be sick, there is no better way to wrap up in self-love.
It’s about freedom.
The ugly sweater is a judgment-free zone. When I put it on, I am actively quieting and soothing my body, but I’m also distancing myself from my inner critic. Negative self-talk cannot penetrate my chunky, knitted armor. The ugly sweater is about saying loud and clear that it doesn’t matter what you look like or how you dress, but who you are.
That’s why it’s important for me that my ugly sweater actually be sort-of ugly. It’s about feeling good in my own skin without any pinching seams or poking buttons to remind me of my supposed limits, boundaries, or flaws. It’s about not caring that that particular shade of green clashes with my skin tone. In some ways, wearing my ugly sweater is a radical act. It allows my essential self to step into the limelight without fear of rejection, be it from myself or someone else.
More than that, by wearing an embodiment of my comfort zone, I’m giving myself permission to step outside of it in other ways. Can I start this new baking project I’m a little unsure of? Should I take on this new research idea and wrestle my way through it? Can I manage to go to the store for essentials even though I’m feeling a little depressed and introverted today? Is it all right to re-pot this plant in the middle of the kitchen with only a spoon for a trowel? With the ugly sweater, all of these things are possible. And if it gets dirty, I can wash it. And if it gets torn, I can mend it. And if it gets stained, that’s ok. These may be small victories, but the ugly sweater gives me permission to live, if only for a moment, without limits.
It’s about feelings and people.
Like Megan, I can occasionally be rather Vulcan-esque, meaning that I sometimes need to be clued in to my own emotional state. The ugly sweater is a life hack that lets me know how I feel. If I want to put on my ugly sweater, I can ask myself if it’s because I’m feeling lazy, or depressed, or just because it’s cozy enough to keep me going through a stressful day of research. Sometimes it can also be a short-hand for my partner that I may need some extra support.
Finally, the ugly sweater is a litmus test for my relationships. [Editor’s note: relationship hack!?] If I’m comfortable with someone seeing me in my ugly sweater, then I probably feel pretty comfortable in that relationship. I don’t have anything to hide or prove, and I know I won’t be judged. It means we’re either good friends or close family. If, on the other hand, I wouldn’t want someone to see me in my ugly sweater, I know that means they aren’t yet included in my inner circle. This of course then leads to considering why I’m not fully letting my guard down around that person and whether I want to redefine that relationship or not. The ugly sweater doesn’t provide the answers, but it does remind me to ask the questions.
Kermit says it’s not easy being green. I don’t think it’s much easier being any other color either. For me though, wearing this particular shade makes my life just a little softer and a little kinder. It lets me love myself more fully.
Do you have an ugly sweater in your life too?