by Alice Hines
Illustration by Katie Barnwell
Last week, the internet found the Ugly Christmas Suit, a polyester three-piece that made the ghosts of ugly Christmas sweaters past look like tasteful cardigans. Among the numerous write-ups was a two-fists-up review from Total Frat Move, the website responsible for the #TFM hashtag (used 108,000 times on Instagram). “This suit is for getting drunk and hitting on your boss’s daughter when he’s right in front of you. This suit is for attempting to snowboard in an urban area. This suit is for falling into the eggnog bowl,” it advised.
The Ugly Christmas Suit was designed by a company in the Netherlands, but it’s clearly appealing to an American niche. That’s the crowd who, for the past few years, have turned Ugly Christmas Sweaters into $80 purchases and the streets of NYC into debauched mosh pits of drunk Santas: bros who love to dress up.
Yes, bros who love to dress up. Once known for khaki pants and New Balances, bros are becoming increasingly experimental with their fashion choices. Look through hashtags and blogs linked to Greek culture and you’ll see it: rushers in head-to-toe ’80s leopard prints, muscled ravers at EDM concerts, college football players with retro facial hair. At the very moment when “normal” is trending on net-art Tumblrs, loud self-expression via clothing is dominating frat parties from USC (Trojans) to USC (Gamecocks).
Let’s call them the Williamsbros.
The Williamsbro is king at Christmastime, and Santa Con is his throne. This Saturday, more than 1,000 people, mostly young white men, will gather in New York in outfits no one else but paid mall Santas wear. The most creative will get high-fives for their light-up sweaters or extra-fluffy beards. The event brands itself as countercultural: in a recent statement, organizers called it “culture-jamming” that “pokes fun at society and the overly-commercialized aspects of the holiday.” Yet there’s something about Santa Con that’s in line with patriarchal power structures, from the binge drinking to the sexual harassment to the in-your-face celebration of the world’s most traditional holiday.
The Williamsbro’s clothes are weird, but his message is not. The fun of them lies in eliciting reactions from the outside world that don’t trip up conventional power dynamics. Dressing for shock originated in movements like punk, where weird clothing signified radical thought. When a fraternity throws a Tight-n-bright party and all the guys wear Spandex neon, though, they’re just being funny. If anything, the pseudo-gay clothing only illuminates the hetero-ness of its wearer.
The bro of yore dressed up for toga parties. The Williamsbro brings the toga party, ’80s party, and Christmas party to wherever he is by virtue of his clothing. “Whereas most people will spend one night in an ugly Christmas sweater, I make them my entire seasonal wardrobe,” a TFM writer wrote in a 2011 post, “Aggressively Celebrating Christmas.” “I also put wreaths on everything, and I mean fucking everything. Police Car? Wreath. Sad hobo? Double wreath and tinsel.” This is satire/fratire. The Williamsbro’s favorite joke is that the ridiculous thing he’s doing isn’t actually a joke. His costume isn’t a costume. His convention mocking Christmas is about celebrating Christmas.
Shinesty, the Boulder, CO, company that’s the top US vendor of the Ugly Christmas Suit, first marketed its collection of “rare and outlandish clothing” for theme parties. But according to Chris White, the founder, people are wearing the clothes on a regular basis. “You might buy something because it’s ironic and funny, but the line is blurred. If you wear it five times in a row, is it ironic? Or do you just think it’s cool?”
Shinesty didn’t set out to cater to a specific demographic. “People have called us both hipster and bro, which I think is indicative of a larger trend,” White said. “No one wants to wear a plain black Northface from the early 2000s. They want something unique.” In addition to this suit, Shinesty stocks all manner of Aztec print hats, ’80s ski-suits, Bill-Cosby sweaters, fanny packs, and windbreakers, a mix of vintage and new. It’s a collection of items that could be spotted anywhere from an East London club night to a Sigma Phi ’80s party, but basically no where in between.
Are we approaching the young white male singularity? Several new types pose the question. The modern “alt bro” is a privileged male whose surface-level intellectualism masks immaturity and misogyny. The tech bro, meanwhile, pursues conventional career success while appropriating hippie and burner aesthetics. The hypebeast, too, sits in the crosshairs of hip-hop, fashion, and bro cultures.
Are any of these really different? Or are they just part of one all-inclusive expanding bro universe, united by privilege? If so, we’re not quite there. This year, one area where Santa Con will not be headed is Williamsburg-adjacent Bushwick. Organizers had plans to congregate there for the first time, but backed off after a local public outcry.* Protesting the Williamsbro, it seems, is the last best way to distinguish yourself from the Williamsbro.
*And, just yesterday: “Due to the planned protests on Saturday, Santacon is scaling back this weekend’s festivities in order to create the lowest possible impact on the city we love.”