What image comes to mind when you think of a Christmas sweater? Perhaps you imagine a traditional Guernsey-knit sweaters, made for local fishermen from tightly twisted wool and ribbed sleeves, providing warmth for days and nights at sea. Or maybe a lively patterned Fair-Isle, with multiple colours bringing joy to a gloomy winter scene. Or perhaps, one might think of an altogether more modern version.
The ‘ugly’ Christmas sweater, characterised by bright colours, clashing patters, and varying textures, was first mass-produced in the 1950s, when the Christmas season was becoming increasingly commercialised. However, it was in the early 2000s, with the first ‘ugly sweater party’ held in Vancouver in 2002, that these sweaters began to soar in popularity. Soon, they made their way into the cultural and fashion zeitgeist.
Christmas sweaters and their iconography featured prominently in the Dolce & Gabanna Fall 2010 Ready-to-Wear Collection. Inspired heavily by both après-ski and chalet style and traditional Nordic sweater patterning, the collection Is equal parts kitsch and nostalgic. Nicole Phelps writes of the proliferation of winter-motifs from ‘snowflake sweaters’ to ‘all-in-ones, belted cardigans, and full-body ski suits in reindeer hand-knits’ and ‘charcoal grey cable sweaters.’ Quite a feast for the senses!
Photo: Marcio Madeira / FirstView.com
Christmas jumpers are a big hit in film and tv as well, providing key visual clues for characterisation and tone. New research conducted by Boohoo has established that the most popular Christmas jumper is Dr Seuss’ The Grinch’s, which first hit TV screens in December 1966 and then the silver screen in 2000’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Searches for ‘Grinch Christmas Jumper’ average 4,700 times per month.
Another infamous, especially in the UK, ugly Christmas sweater is that of the dreamy lawyer Mr Darcy in Bridget Jones’ Diary. Mr Darcy and Bridget bond over their ugly sweaters forced upon them by their mothers. Director Sharon Maguire talks of the sweater as key in Mr. Darcy’s character establishment, ’The original sweater went through many designs because it had to be just right. The character of Mr. Darcy is a constipated English prig when we first meet him so we needed something totally ridiculous to pierce that pomposity… It also had to look home-knit, something his mother knitted for him.’
Throughout the decades, and found in many cold cultures, the winter or Christmas sweater proves timeless and persistent, going through many variations but always communicating the same feelings of comfort, warmth, and familiarity.