When it comes to Christmas sweaters, ugly is in the eye of the beholder — much like a falling icicle or a sharpened candy cane, if wielded with precision.

If you’re not fully prepared to defend yourself, sensory damage could result.

“It’s like a conjoined twin, ‘Alien’-escapee Santa sweater,” said Adam Leech, owner of The Leechpit vintage clothing store on North Nevada Avenue. Leech flashed a gleeful grimace as he held up the Christmas monstrosity (technically a turtleneck) created by his wife, Heather, who stepped in — with darkly comic eye and sewing skills — when it became clear the store’s inventory of truly heinous, truly vintage holiday duds wasn’t going to suffice. “For $15 to $20, we’ll get you set up in a mildly repulsive sweater. Anything over $50, we’ll need to see a waiver from your optometrist.”

Not surprisingly, the disembodied mini-Santa-head

Kuato sweater will set you back 50 big ones — and possibly a few nights’ sleep.

If price is any indicator of demand, and it pretty much always is this time of year, then the awful Christmas sweater (again, term applied loosely) could be the season’s must-have.

Leech had a not-unsympathetic “Uh … no” for shopper Devin Richter, who browsed a bit before inquiring about a possible secret stock of “$5 ugly Christmas sweaters.”

“They were all out at Goodwill and the ARC,” said Richter, 20, who won second place in an ugly sweater contest last year with a fashion sleigh-wreck featuring a Christmas tree that actually lit up. Alas, that specimen died in the wash, so Richter was forced back to the aisles. He ended up buying the $37 “Woah, Nelly” Christmas-plaid Izod.

“It’s not just ugly; it’s for a woman,” Richter said, pointing out the deep-V neck. “It will be very embarrassing on me.”

Not all ugly Christmas sweaters — or ugly sweater wearers — are created equal, said Leech, sounding like the bad threads pedagogue he is after 10 years in the vintage resale business. Christmas certainly doesn’t have a corner on the market, either.

Consider, if you will: The Mr. Rogers, the Huxtable, the Cobain.

“There’s an ugly sweater for every decade and every personality,” Leech said.

For Ashlee Peterson, of Colorado Springs, the bad Christmas sweater experience was a crafty — and communal — one.

“I think there have been at least three of us who have worn it to our own personal parties. I got a hold of it last year and added to the back side,” said Peterson, 29, who adorned the red knit crewneck with fake poinsettia leaves, ornaments, paper snowflakes and even a functioning wine bottle opener. “There’s no wrong way to do an ugly sweater,” she said.

Especially in the past three years, Leech has seen the ugly Christmas sweater trend expand from the college set to office parties and beyond. Revelers of all ages are embracing the tacky with a deliriously unself-conscious glee, donning their gay apparel with an abandon once reserved for that seminal of costume holidays: All Hallow’s Eve — which, in Leech’s observation, has trended precipitously in the (tsk-tsk) naughty direction.

It’s hard to look sexy in an ugly Christmas sweater, Leech said, and “that’s the theory behind it. Everyone is equally embarrassed.”

So, perhaps, what began as a tongue-in-cheek celebration of gaudy festive wardrobe has evolved into something — dare we say it — kind of sweet? A great equalizer that can, if we let it, remind us what the holidays are all about: the shedding of vanity, laughing all the way and brightening the world one hideous light-up sweater at a time.

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When it comes to Christmas sweaters, sincerity is never a question for some.
For some, though, sincerity was never a question.

“Oh, that one’s perfect,” said 56-year-old Mark Lovelace, of Colorado Springs, pulling a Frosty the Snowman-graphic sweatshirt from a rack at The Leechpit. “I’ve wanted one for the past couple years, but I couldn’t find one. I wasn’t necessarily looking for an ugly one, just looking for one.”

Department stores simply didn’t sell the audaciously merry attire Lovelace sought. So, his 17-year-old son steered him to Adam Leech’s store.

“I’m a genuine fan of the holiday sweatshirt,” Lovelace said.

“You mean, genuinely not ironic?” Leech asked. “Huh. Now I feel uncomfortable.”