We’ve all seen them: holiday cards where entire families are dressed in coordinated outfits. Perhaps you’ve even posed for one yourself. Pajamas, sweaters, elf costumes—it doesn’t matter what you wear, as long as it matches.
But why do completely normal people suddenly dress up as gingerbread cookies? To understand, we turned to history. Thousands of years ago, we lived in small groups. Creating a common recognizable form of dress signaled who was a member of our tribe and who wasn’t. Today, the family is our “tribe,” and our appearance in the family holiday card is one of the modern ways that we communicate who we are and what we think.
At first family holiday cards and their portraits sent a message of sincerity and seriousness. But no tradition escapes the unstoppable tide of irony.
Perhaps the coordinated-look trend started with the holiday sweater. Whether you call it “decorative,” “hilarious,” “festive,” “heartwarming,” or—as it’s become known on the always-snarky internet—“ugly,” it is the grandfather of matching holiday attire. Invented in the 50s, popularized in the 80s, and revitalized in the new millennium, wearing one is the knitted equivalent of a wink: Don’t take me too seriously.
(A note: We here at Minted find it sad that the great decorative holiday sweater has become known as “ugly.” Just remember, the Eiffel Tower was once thought of as “ugly.” Monet’s haystacks: “ugly.” Moby Dick, the literary equivalent of “ugly.” Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and behold: the holiday sweater!)
But sweaters were only the beginning. Now every year brings funnier and weirder cards and combos.
Dress up as Hawaiian reindeer? Yup. Deck out the crew in hunting camo? Uh huh. Appear as characters from your favorite 90s movie? Of course. Everyone dress like the baby? Check. Recreate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, this time by Santa’s elves? We’re waiting…
The stranger the better. And if someone doesn’t understand your humor, it just proves they’re not a part of your tribe.
We took a quick look at last year’s holiday cards (okay, maybe it wasn’t so quick, there were over a million) to see if there were any interesting things to be learned about America’s love affair with matching holiday attire.
The first thing we discovered blew our matching socks off.
Matching attire prevalence is not exactly random. The three states with the highest percentage of matching attire are all adjacent: more than 28% of holiday cards from Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi, all have some form of matching attire.
What could explain this? Proximity to the Gulf of Mexico? Every state you drive through to get from Texas to Florida? It couldn’t be the weather, those holiday sweaters are hot.