The Homemade Sweater From Hell is a sweater that is one step from being pixelated if it's on television - or otherwise garish. The sleeves might be different lengths, initials might be knitted into it in a bizarre fashion, it might be an awful color or an awful mix of colors, it might be a childish pattern in an adult sweater, or it might just be tacky. It might even be awfully itchy. And it was a gift from someone who picked it out or knitted it specially (most often parents and grandparents), so even if the character normally has taste, he'll have to wear it.
Sometimes it will actually look like a perfectly wearable sweater, but most characters will react to it as if it were the most hideous thing ever - an Informed Attribute that's like a distant inanimate relative of Hollywood Homely.
This happens most often during Christmas Specials, since that's when most homemade sweaters from hell are worn in Real Life. But it doesn't have to be Christmas. A character with a sufficiently bad sense of style or financial problems might wear them all year, weather permitting.
With a hint of Irony, tacky Christmas Sweaters briefly became high fashion in December 2012
A Sub-Trope of Unwanted Gift Plot.
Compare Impossibly Tacky Clothes.
Contrast Sweater Girl.
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In an advertisement for some credit card, a couple is inspired to throw an Ugly Sweater Christmas Party (with purchased sweaters, rather than actual homemade ones, but the awfulness of the sweaters still fit the spirit of this trope) upon seeing a couple at an ice rink wearing this kind of sweater.
Anime and Manga
Ranma ˝: More like the Homemade Scarf from Hell in this case...
Akane: Here. It's, uh, for you. It's kind of a Christmas present. It's not very fancy but...
Ranma: I-It's a shawl. No- No, I see. It's a fishing net.
Akane: It's a scarf, you lame-brain! I made it myself!
The Tenchi Muyo! OVA had Ayeka attempt to knit on as a gift for Tenchi. She gets lost in a daydream and knits the thing so much longer than it should have been. She's never shown trying to give it to him, though.
Given by Wally West (The Flash) to his wife one Christmas- not to be worn, but as a reminder of her speech of what really mattered in giving.
Linda: Not that it's not lovely, but...
Wally: But it's so not. I know. It's repugnant. Wear it, and I'll claim I don't know you. And yet interestingly enough... not the point.
The sweater is actually store-bought, and a running joke in the story is wondering who buys the hideous things.
One Scamp story has the Tramp trying to deal with an embarrassing dog sweater his owners made for him. He literally gets stuck in it trying to get it off, until Scamp shrinks it off using cold water. Unfortunately, it shrinks small enough that Lady makes Scamp wear it instead.
This story appears to be adapted from the animated short Pluto's Sweater, where Minnie gives Pluto a sweater and Figaro ends up getting it after it shrinks. (And by the way, it was turned into a comic too. Interestingly, the original short wasn't set at Christmastime, but the comic adaptation was.)
Many Danny Phantom fanons that involve ghost puberty or Danny receiving his powers for the first time involve Danny having to hide glow spots or his jumpsuit with an ugly Christmas Sweater. It's ironic since Danny hated Christmas before The Fright Before Christmas in the canon.
Do not let Louise start knitting in The Hill of Swords. Whatever she knits invariably will come alive at some point and attack either her or the person wearing the article of clothing. And she keeps trying!
ˇThree Amigos!. On El Guapo's birthday, his bandits give him an ugly two-tone sweater as a present. See it on YouTube here at about 6:55. Hilariously, despite getting something as useless as a butt-ugly sweater in the Mexican badlands, El Guapo likes it and he wears it like a mantle for the rest of the scene.
Alluded to in Home Alone. Kevin tells the snow-shoveler that his grandma gave him a hand-knit sweater with a giant bird on it, which he refused to wear because of a fear of getting beaten up at school.
In the film Better Off Dead, Jenny gives her husband Al a truly horrific hooded aardvark suit for Christmas, complete with ears and a snout. He makes the comment that everyone will be wearing one next year, then goes outside and finds his neighbor is indeed wearing one as well.
The classic French comedy Le Pere Noel Est Une Ordure ("Santa Claus Is A Bastard"): One of the characters is offered as a Christmas present such an ugly homemade sweater, he initially thinks it's a mop.
One elf wonders if they made one particular sweater and checks it.
One is worn by the Television Director in The BeatlesA Hard Days Night. The Beatles specifically comment on how awful it looks. This was the actor's own sweater he had received as a gift. He later made the sweater itself a gift to a fan club who asked him for it.
In Arthur Christmas the titular character wears one, and if the production notes are to be believed, has one for every day of the year.
Harry Potter: Mrs. Weasley tends to knit jumpers for all the children for a two-fold purpose: to show the Weasleys have very little money and because she's so motherly. No-one complains because she's so nice and jolly and they don't want to hurt her feelings. Then again, after the last book showed what she iscapable of, perhaps they are too scared. It's mostly Ron (who mainly complains because every year it's maroon, his least favorite color) and Percy who complain about their jumpers, rather than all the children. It's also a bit of heartwarming for Harry. He tends to be given them as presents as well which not only makes him an unofficial member of the family but it's also the first regular Christmas presents in his entire life since his biological family pretty much don't give him presents for any occasion (and when they do, it's 'gifts' like a single paper clip).
Also, while some of the Weasley siblings are more or less horrified at the thought of getting and wearing these jumpers, Harry himself never reacts negatively. It's probably partially because of the heartwarming aspect, but it may also be because the Weasley siblings have simply grown tired of getting a jumper every Christmas or just don't like jumpers in general (even the well-knitted ones). At least, the jumpers don't seem to have many of the tacky traits in the trope description.
Mrs. Whitlow, Unseen University's fearsome housekeeper, is noted to knit these kinds of sweaters. They always end up in donation bins, but Ankh-Morpork being Ankh-Morpork, there's at least one person who can wear them.
John "Not a Vampire at All" Smith, president of the Uberwald League of Temperance, is infamous for his dreadful pullovers.
Mark Darcy (Colin Firth's character) in the first Bridget Jones book.
A Jurby, in The Meaning of Liff, is an article of clothing knitted by an incompetent aunt which reaches to the knees and has at least three armholes.
From the poem "Christmas Thank Yous" by Mick Gowar:
Dear Auntie Oh, what a nice jumper I've always adored powder blue and fancy you thinking of orange and pink for the stripes how clever of you!
Live Action TV
X-Play, when Adam Sessler and Morgan Webb were wearing sweaters like this, Adam said the antler hat didn't emasculate him. Morgan agreed because "It's the sweater that makes you look gay".
In an episode of Pushing Daisies, Emerson Cod complains to the Coroner about the Christmas sweater the Coroner is wearing and how a Christmas sweater is a stupid gift to get for Christmas, since you can only wear it on Christmas.
One early Hannah Montana episode had Miley get a sweater with what looked like a stuffed cat in the front and back... AND it meows!
In the same episode, Oliver mentions that he got the puppy version for Christmas. It barks Jingle Bells.
From Firefly, Jayne's "Cunning Hat" may not be a sweater, but it surely must qualify, considering that it's ridiculous-looking, knit, and made by his mother. Subverted in that he gives every indication that he loves the hideous thing.
Wash: A man walks down the street in that hat, people know he's not afraid of anything.
Ironically, the hat has taken on a life of it's own, becoming a symbol for the fandom and a rather popular merch item.
An episode of Lizzie McGuire revolved around Lizzie's reluctance to wear a bright green homemade unicorn sweater in her Yearbook photo.
In a recent Mike And Molly, Mike buys a repugnant green sweater from his partner's cousin.
On The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, Maddie rigs the Secret Santa so that London draws her name, hoping for an expensive gift. However, London, after being told that homemade gifts are more thoughtful, knits Maddie a sweater... in the loosest sense of the word "sweater", since it has three arms and no neckhole.
The above was hilariously referenced in an episode of White Collar; when Peter's in-laws are coming to visit, he wears the sweater his mother-in-law knit for him, prompting Diana to call him "Dr. Huxtable."
An episode of Leave It to Beaver was about Beaver giving his mother a sweater that she really didn't like, but was too nice to tell him about it. And then he suggested that she should wear it to a parent/teacher meeting.
Harold and Hilda of Ever Decreasing Circles wear matching homemade sweaters in every episode. It never turns up in the script, but it's heavily implied that Hilda hand-knit these herself.
On The Late Late Show in Ireland, Christmas jumpers are Serious Business. Current presenter Ryan Tubridy caused real controversy when it was hinted that he might not wear one for his first Toy Show. The maroon jumper he eventually appeared in was auctioned off for charity, for a price of €1,050. The next year he caused outrage again by suggesting on Twitter that he wouldn't wear one. The nation loves the jumpers, the man, it would seem, does not.
On That '70s Show, Hyde is given one of these by Kitty on his eighteenth birthday.
Repeatedly subverted in The Addams Family: Morticia knits sweaters that look horribly malformed, but will in fact fit one cousin or another perfectly.
One of Sherlock's deductions hinged on the assumption that a man would only wear the uncomfortable, hideous Christmas sweater in an effort to please his mum, who presumably was the one who gave it to him.
Late Night With Jimmy Fallon has an annual holiday tradition: "12 Days of Christmas Sweaters". Every night for 12 consecutive weeknights note Well, as consecutive as you can get with weekends getting in the way Jimmy gives away an incredibly tacky Christmas sweater to a randomly selected audience member as a form of a joke contest.
In The Big Bang Theory, Leonard has a red, itchy sweater from his aunt. Sheldon makes him wear it with nothing underneath as part of an In Another Man's Shoes scheme (he wants to show Leonard how not having closure is like an itch in his brain), and it gives him a terrible rash (causing Penny to ask "Is it made of bees?).
The Dutch yearly musical program Kinderen voor Kinderen (Children singing songs about world problems and other things that occupy children's minds) had the song Kriebeltrui (Itchy Sweater)
In Cul De Sac, 4-year-old Alice knocks herself silly by running to give her mother a hug while her mother is wearing one of these.
Garfield often gets these as Christmas presents from Jon's mother, and is forced to wear them by Jon. An early strip (1981-12-27) shows the cat tying a loose end to a post and running to unravel his way out.
In the Grand Avenuestrip for December 19th 2013 the three main characters all wear matching sweaters they received in a past Christmas. Michael says "Frightening!"
Phoenix had a pink sweater with P inside a heart, made to him by his girlfriend in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Trials And Tribulations. As Mia puts it, "That P doesn't stand for Phoenix, anyway". In the Japanese version, the heart has Ryu written on it instead of P (as in Ryuuichi Naruhodou).
One mission in Bully had Jimmy receiving a terrible Christmas sweater from his mother, and had to walk all the way back to the dorm to change it.
The "Itchy Sweater" upgrade from Cookie Clicker. Supposedly, it makes its wearer feel like you're wrapped in a dead Sasquatch.
In Homestar Runner, the stairway of the Brothers Strong's house has pictures of Strong Mad and The Cheat wearing hand-made holiday sweaters, implying some relation knits Christmas sweaters for all four residents, despite their....unique physiques making for some weird measurements. Also, Homestar receives one as a Decemberween gift from Marzipan's parents in "A Death Defying Decemberween".
Nanase from El Goonish Shive often wears a cutesy heart sweater to please her mother. She changes out of it whenever possible, because it tends to subvert the badass image she likes to project.
In the Garfield Christmas Special, Jon gets a Christmas sweater that flows far past the tips of his fingers.
He also gets some of these in the strip. On one occasion, he got one that didn't even have a hole for his head.
SpongeBob once made Squidward an itchy sweater made from his own eyelashes. To make up for it, he makes another sweater out of tears.
Averted nicely with Gravity Falls. Mabel makes her own sweaters, and fans agree they actually look comfortable and some fans would wear them, given the chance.
In an episode of Justice League, J'onn J'onzz (Martian Manhunter) is visiting the Kents (Superman's family) one Christmas. Martha gives him a sweater but it's too large. J'onn is pleased with the gift though and says he can grow into it, and promptly uses his shapechanging abilities to do just that.
Among the many presents gifted to Bloo from Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends by his stalker-girl Berry, includes a dumb-looking sweater. Inverted in that he actually likes it, since it fits him so well. Being inhuman, he probably does have a hard time finding clothes that "fits really well across the chest".
Implied in The Simpsons episode "Miracle on Evergreen Terrace":
Bart: (holding one of Lisa's presents) Hocus pocus, mucus pukus! My powers tell me you're getting a homemade sweater-possibly yellow!
Lisa: Mom, make Bart stop!
Marge: Bart, put down that yellow sweater.
Dr. Hibbert also frequently wears one when he's off-duty, since his family is frequently a parody of The Cosby Show.
An episode of KaBlam! had a scene where Henry's mom gives him an embarrassing purple sweater with a train on it.
Kim Possible's Nana presents her with a rather bulky wool sweater (in Florida, in the summer). Taking it off messes up Kim's hair worse than any fight or Death Trap ever did.