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Made in Britain

November 30, 2015

The Christmas Jumper Phenomenon

By: Lynsey Bowen

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Imagine the scene: chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose, the weather outside is frightful, but the wine (ahem, fire) is delightful and the bells are ringing out.


Clichéd images like these are far more prevalent than snowflakes at Christmas, but even if you loathe them, you will nevertheless find yourself sucked into the vortex of happiness that is the festive season. You may, despite your good sense, find yourself sporting a jolly snowman on your jumper and no matter how you explain the practicalities of the thick, warm wool, you will never be able to justify the red and green pompoms adorning your latest garment.

Our custom woven labels make their way into some weird and wonderful places, but none with less refinement than the Christmas jumper. This bawdy, unflattering outfit has a lot to answer, not least why we love it so much. So, to find out where and why it’s perfectly acceptable to enjoy this woolly wonder, here’s a brief history:

Fair Isle Jumpers

fair isle jumpersFar away on a remote island in the North of Scotland, a special form of knitting was emerging at the end of the 19th century. The resulting knitwear was full of colour, beautifully patterned and was a practical, but fun solution to the windswept Scottish winters.

Like a good royal, the then Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII), chose to show off his beloved Fair Isle tank top when playing golf at St Andrews in 1922. The world went wild – designers took to replicating the style and before the decade was out, mothers were dressing their children in patterned wool.

Patterns Re-Emerge

Just as with all fashion trends, Fair Isle eventually fell from favour, but it never completely disappeared. While artisan, handmade Fair Isle jumpers became highly valued, patterned replicas gave way to knitwear with a style of its very own and once again, it was a celebrity who took the trend to another level.

In the 1980s, American TV personality, Bill Cosby, appeared in the hit sitcom, The Cosby Show, wearing oversized, highly patterned jumpers made by fashion designer Koos van den Akker. The jumpers were bold, bright and brash, featuring all kinds of images, including all kinds of creative scenes. The jumpers gained a cult following and Koos van den Akker began production of the ‘Cosby Sweater’, For the first time, consumers were buying jumpers for their absurdity rather than their sense of style.

Sweater Parties

In 2001, yet another celebrity helped to propel the patterned sweater into the limelight when Colin Firth appeared in Bridget Jones’ Diary wearing a novelty reindeer jumper.Colin Firths Christmas Jumper from Bridget Jones
By 2002, the first ‘ugly sweater’ party had been held by students in Vancouver, Canada, to celebrate all things festively ugly and (if you’ll pardon the pun), the parties snowballed, until the jumpers with the most hideous clash of colours, pompoms, bells and whistles, became the most sought after. Today, ugly sweater parties are held all over the world and the coolest of kids are those with the most hideous Christmas jumper.

A sense of nostalgia

When the hipster subculture became prominent in 2010, nostalgia became the order of the day. The movement threw back to a more wholesome era, celebrating vintage style sourced from charity shops and grandma’s hand-knits as cooler than any mainstream purchase. There could not be a more welcome platform for the festive knit and today, the Christmas jumper is more representative of the effortlessly cool, bohemian style of the ‘Hipster’ than of its former ‘ugly’ personality.

Ugly Christmas Jumper partyNo longer is the Christmas jumper to be scoffed at. 82% of us admit to owning one and with varieties from Ralph Lauren and Stella McCartney, unwrapping one on Christmas day could insight a celebration rather than a despairing groan. There’s little wonder that the likes of Kate Moss, Snoop Dog and even Samantha Cameron are indulging in a little festive wool, but if you still can’t be persuaded to partake in the party pullover, why not succumb in the name of charity – Christmas Jumper Day is being held on 18 December 2015 in aid of Save the Children, Macmillan Cancer Support and Make-A-Wish UK.

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