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How to Organize a Successful Bad Sweater Party

"Hey Scott, would you like to go to a Bad Sweater Party this weekend?"

"A what party?!" I said.

"A Bad Sweater Party. Wait a minute?you mean to tell me you've never been to a Bad Sweater Party before?" asked Amber.

"Guess not," I admitted.

A Bad Sweater Party is exactly what you think it is: A party at which the guests wear bad sweaters.

Nobody can be certain where this idea originated. It's possible that it came about during the 80's when ALL sweaters were bad sweaters. Nevertheless, my first Bad Sweater Party experience was, without a doubt, one of the most enjoyable nights I have ever had. (And I only knew one person there!)

One week before the party I began to plan out my wardrobe. Looking through my drawers, I couldn't find anything that could have been classified as a "bad sweater." At least, that's what I told myself. I figured that since the bulk of the bad sweaters in the world were worn between 1971 and 1994, a thrift store was my best bet for scoring some particularly heinous gear.

When I went to my local Goodwill I approached the counter and asked, "Hi, I'm looking for the ugliest, most out dated, eye sore of a sweater known to man ? got anything like that?"

"You must be going to a bad sweater party, huh?"

"Yeah, how did you know that!?"

"I've been to a few myself ? they're loads of a fun. Come on, let's see what piece of crap we can find for you today sir."

After a good 20 minutes of searching, I found my sweater. I was so bad, it was beautiful! It looked like something your colorblind grandfather wore at a holiday Christmas Party in 1972 that, if it were any tighter, might have also doubled as a leotard.

And I loved it.

"I'll take it!" I said.

Two dollars and forty nine cents later, Amber and I arrived at the Bad Sweater Party. She sported a purple, blue and turquoise gem that could have easily been stolen from the wardrobe room of the Cosby Show. And although I was slightly self conscious about the skin-tightness of my snowflake laden top ? as well as not knowing anybody there - everything changed when we walked in the door?

"Hey!! What's up guys, come on in!" said the host, "Wow those are the ugliest sweaters I've ever seen! I love 'em!"

"Thanks man! Your sweater sucks too! My name is Scott - I'm a friend of Amber's."

"Well it's great to meet you, thanks for dressing up! I'm Joe, welcome to my house."

When I walked in, I saw sweaters of every decade, every color, every style and every brand. It almost became a game to see who could have the worst sweater of all. But the best part was - the sweaters were horrible, and nobody seemed to care! The crowd was booming with laughter and beaming with positive energy. Everyone talked to everyone. Everyone complimented everyone. And for the next four hours, I experienced the most unbelievable sense of ease, comfort and approachability with a group of complete strangers.

When I got home later that night, I realized that any time you use party themes ? especially outrageous ones - they have an invaluable effect on the connectedness of the guests:

Invite Only
How many times have you been invited to a party that didn't sound that inviting?

"Robbie's having a party on Saturday ? you should come."

Great, see ya there.

On the other hand, when you hear about a theme party, it entices you:

"Come over to Robbie's on Saturday for his annual Bad Sweater Party!"

Now that sounds like fun!

Preparation Solidifies Commitment
Themes also encourage people to go the extra mile. I remember asking other partiers where they had gotten their bad sweaters. Some told me they shopped at local vintage stores; others said they raided their parents' closets while some even bought them on Ebay! But because they RSVP'ed, and because they searched or even bought a bad sweater, everyone was sure to have fun and stay late.

What Should I Wear?
Think about the big question guests ask before attending any party:

"What's the dress code?"

This always creates ambiguity and often times, improper dress ? over or under ? can cause guests to feel uncomfortable and therefore unwilling to communicate. But with a theme, you know exactly what to wear, i.e., a bad sweater.

Themes enhance parties and events because they reduce uncertainty, which is one of the major barriers to communication. The reason people often feel so uncomfortable at parties is because they don't "fit in." But when everyone makes the effort to adhere to the theme, everybody fits in, no matter who they are, where they came from or how many people they know.

Breaking the Ice
Think of all the parties you attended where people just sat around and stared at the wall. Exciting, huh?

Obviously it's true what Adam Sandler said, "Initiating the conversation is half the battle." The most effective way to break the ice at a party is to discuss your connection to the host - this generates a CPI, or common point of interest.

But with a theme party, the CPI is already established before you walk in the door. It's impossible not to socialize with everyone. You can break the ice with anybody, anytime!

How do You Connect Your Guests?
Incorporating a theme into parties and meetings allows your guests to significantly increase their comfort level, approachability and friendliness. The Bad Sweater Party is merely one of many examples, so begin thinking of some theme ideas for your next event. Do this, and you'll never have to hear the phrase "that party sucked last night," again.

2005 All Rights Reserved.

Scott Ginsberg is a professional speaker, "The World's Foremost Expert on Nametags" and the author of HELLO my name is Scott and The Power of Approachability. He helps people MAXIMIZE their approachability and become UNFORGETTABLE communicators - one conversation at a time. For more information contact Front Porch Productions at

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