Whether you love it or you hate it, we’re probably all familiar with the feeling of unwrapping a holiday gift only to discover a pair of smiley-face underwear (or some other novelty duds) inside. 

With the holidays right around the corner, CivicScience asked thousands of Americans (ages 13+) about their feelings on giving and receiving novelty clothing — T-shirts, socks, and underwear, to be exact — as gifts. 

It turns out that Americans are fairly evenly split over the issue of novelty clothes. About one-third say they don’t like it, while three in 10 say they either like it or love it. Roughly four in 10 could go either way.

Those who ‘like’ or ‘love’ to receive novelty clothing as gifts are more likely than others to be parents, and more likely to live in cities. Favorability toward novelty clothing peaks in the middle income range. Only one-quarter of those earning more than $100,000 say they like or love it, while one-third of middle-income adults say the same.

While one might think of teenagers as the perfect people to buy novelty clothes for as a holiday gift, the opposite might be true. Americans ages 13 to 17 were a lot more likely than their elders to say they don’t like getting novelty clothing as a gift, and less likely than 18- to 54-year-olds to say they actively enjoy it.

When it comes to buying novelty clothing as a gift for others, Americans were slightly more likely to buy novelty shirts and sweatshirts as a holiday gift than they were to buy novelty socks or underwear.

And, as you might have guessed, those who like to receive novelty clothing as a gift were way more likely than others to give it as a gift as well. So, that relative who always shows up to family functions in a Ninja Turtles T-shirt might be getting you your own version for the holidays this year.

Who’s Buying Specialty Sock Brands?

Now, not all specialty socks are considered “novelty.” But with the recent proliferation of specialty sock companies — think Bombas, Happy Socks, and Pair of Thieves — CivicScience surveyed Americans on their experience with these brands. 

For starters, 60% of Americans say they typically wear solid-colored socks, meaning four in 10 mix in patterned or ‘fun’ socks at least sometimes.

We can learn a lot by taking a look at the demographic data for users and intenders of four specialty sock brands. For example, Bombas — the most well-known brand name on this list, and probably the least likely to be dubbed ‘novelty’ — perform very well among women ages 45 to 64. Meanwhile, more than half of all Pair of Thieves users and intenders (53%) are below the age of 30, and most are men (61%).

Geographically speaking, a few things stuck out. First, Happy Socks users and intenders were far more likely than users and intenders of other specialty sock brands to live in urban areas. Second, Pair of Thieves socks see their highest use and intent in Northeast states, and their lowest in Western states. 

In general, it appears that Bombas has carved out its own specific niche, while Happy Socks, Pair of Thieves, and Conscious Step may be battling over a similar segment of the market — that is, younger adults and teens who tend to live in higher-income households.