xmas crackers | 

From Bridget Jones to €1,000 designer knits, how the tacky Christmas jumper has evolved

A&E Designs/Shutterstock/Balenciaga/Warner Bros

A&E Designs/Shutterstock/Balenciaga/Warner Bros

Saman Javed© Independent.co.uk

We all remember that scene from Bridget Jones’s Diary. The one where she’s ushered over to meet Mark Darcy, who appears, from behind, to be a very worthy suitor until he turns around and expectations are managed, for there is a large reindeer on his jumper.

The film, released in 2001, is one of the most notable examples of a Christmas jumper on screen.

Then of course there was The OC in which Seth Cohen also adorns himself with reindeer when he introduces Ryan to his self-concocted festive celebration: Chrismukkah.

But ahead of its appearance in dramas and romcoms, the Christmas jumper was already being popularised by television hosts before the early 2000s.

British presenter Gyles Brandreth wore dozens of designs during the 1980s, while American singer Andy Williams was rocking them as early as the 1970s.

Most recently, the Christmas jumper has even been adopted by the Natural History Museum, which announced this week that its famous tyrannosaurus Rex has been fitted with a giant sweater of its own.

The navy blue, red, green and white design covers the upper part of the dinosaur’s torso and even its little arms.

While the garment has become synonymous with the festive season, according to knitwear designer Cheryl Madley, the Christmas jumper originated from traditional Icelandic knitwear made for the country’s fishermen.

“Every one was different so that if there was an accident at sea, they could tell which fisherman it was because of his sweater,” she says. Madley, who has been designing since the 1980s recalls studying Scandinavian jumpers which were made from thick wool and bore patterns of snowflakes and geometric shapes – similar to the Fair Isle designs seen on the market today.

After Christmas jumpers first started appearing on US television screens – they were a firm favourite of Bill Cosby on The Cosby Show in the 1980s – they quickly took off across the country.

Here in the UK, it took some adjusting. “They were always very tacky. It was always like your grandma made you one for Christmas, but you didn’t really want to wear it,” Madley says.

While we all shared Bridget Jones’s horror, the consensus shifted from style faux-pas to indie ironic right through to fashion-industry approved in 2007 when the Christmas jumper met the catwalk.

Stella McCartney’s autumn/winter ‘07 collection included a grey knit dress featuring white polar bears, while Dolce & Gabbana sent one of its models down its autumn/winter 2010 runway in a full knit bodysuit covered in reindeer and snowflakes.

Also that year, Riccardo Tisci debuted an autumn/winter collection for Givenchy featuring a number of snowflake-patterned prints. At the time, the designer told Vogue he had been inspired by the ski world.

But the Christmas jumper’s affair with fashion’s elite proved to be short-lived. In 2012, Save The Children started a new annual event called “Christmas Jumper Day”.

Every year, people across the are encouraged to put on their best Christmas jumper and donate £2 to the charity.

This was followed by the adoption of Christmas jumper parties by workplaces, where employees are asked to wear their best festive number.

It was around this time that the Christmas jumper suffered the unfortunate fate of going from being an accepted part of our December wardrobes, to a novelty item worn sparingly in a “so-hideous-it’s-funny” kind of way.

As Brian Miller, an author of Ugly Christmas Sweater Party Book: The Definitive Guide to Getting Your Ugly On, put it in an interview with CNN in 2019: “It became our generation’s mistletoe. The moment someone wore the garment in a humorous way, people started seeing the comic side of it.”

Today, Christmas jumpers are largely regarded as a novelty item that brings holiday cheer as opposed to a sartorial style statement.

“It’s a form of nostalgia,” Madley explains.

“Wearing a Christmas jumper is a comforting experience. It makes you think of roaring fires, Christmas songs, chestnuts roasting, that kind of thing.” Natascha Radclyffe-Thomas, a professor in marketing and sustainable business at the Business School of Fashion, says the Christmas jumper’s current status is not surprising, given that it was never a “high culture artifact”.

“It came from novelty. The luxury jumpers on the market today are made from expensive materials, but there’s not that much difference between them [and those on the high street],” she says. Just one example is a creation from Dolce & Gabbana, which retails for more than €1,000.

But while the days of earnestly wearing glittering, garish Christmas jumpers are a thing of the past – thanks to an overkill of the market that even saw McDonald’s and Gregg’s release their own versions (sounding the death knell for any semblance of cool), “well-made, spangly or traditional wool sweaters still have plenty of retro appeal, especially if they’re homespun Fair Isle or Arran-style knits”, says Lauren Bravo, author of How to Break Up With Fast Fashion.

One potential negative consequence of annual events like Christmas Jumper Day or Christmas jumper work parties is that the novelty one-hit-wonder aspect could encourage waste.

In 2019, environmental charity Hubbub reported that up to 95pc of Christmas jumpers are made using plastic.

A survey of 3,000 adults also found that one in three people under the age of 35 buy a new one every year, while two fifths of jumpers are only worn once.

To avoid adding to the problem, stylist Miranda Holder says that unless a Christmas jumper is being worn for maximum irony, consumers should consider a “tasteful, pared down version”.

“I personally recommend my clients shy away from anything that has a limited opportunity for wear, as every piece should earn its place in your wardrobe and therefore be able to be worn in a multitude of ways at several different occasions.”

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