- George at Asda reveals fishermen, skiing, Clarke Gable, Bridget Jones’ Diary, Noel Edmunds are all to thanks for our love of festive knits
- 12.3 million Brits will wear a Christmas jumper on the big day this year*
- Fashion historian at Sotheby’s charts history and predicts future of Christmas jumpers
28 November 2016: THIS WEEK is when Brits are most likely to purchase their annual festive jumper.
As Brits flock to the shops, George at Asda, which is expecting to sell over 600,000 Christmas jumpers this year, has teamed up with fashion historian and consultant lecturer at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, Dr Benjamin Wild, to explore where our love affair with Christmas knits began. The historical research today uncovers we have Scandinavian fisherman to thank for our jaunty jumpers.
Scandinavian beginnings (1890-1960)
According to Dr Benjamin Wild, the Christmas jumper can be traced to the heavy, warm sweaters that were hand-knitted in Scandinavia and Iceland before the twentieth century. “Characterised by contrasting bands of geometric patterns, which are popular in today’s Fair Isle knits, the jumpers distinguished fishermen from different communities. One suggestion is that this was to identify their bodies if they drowned at sea.”
However, the jumpers became more widely known because they were associated with skiing, another popular Scandinavian sport. “Skiers needed warm clothing as much as fishermen and as their sport developed during the first half of the twentieth century, knitwear with bands of geometric patterns and colours influenced by forest landscapes, became common skiwear. As affluent travellers returned from the ski slopes of Europe with their colourful knits, the humble jumper was elevated to a symbol of luxury and glamour,” says Dr Wild.
In the post-war years Hollywood had a part to play with stars such as Clark Gable, Gary Cooper and Ingrid Berman helping to popularise the look and lifestyle of skiing. “Cheap, colourful and customisable, knitted jumpers became an attractive and commonplace wardrobe staple in the lean years after the Second World War, which helped to set the scene for the festive jumper to make its debut during the 1960’s,” says Dr Wild.
The Power of the Big and Small Screen (1960-2000s)
The growing popularity of sixties knitwear, films and advertising really helped to bring the festive knitwear we know and love today into the public eye. “Knitwear such as the popular shawl collar cardigans of the Sixties started featuring in films. Worn by Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady (1964) and Robert Vaughn in The Man from U.N.C.L.E (1965) and then used in Christmas advertising campaigns replacing suits and dresses with up-to-the-minute knitwear. Knitwear was used to entice customers to buy a range of festive goods and by the 1970s the winter woolly was officially associated with Christmas.”
The substitution of suits and dresses for knitwear during the festive season could also be seen in a range of films and TV as the decades marched on. “The pop-culture and catwalk of the Eighties and Nineties really helped festive knitwear to develop attitude as designers injected the energy of the decades into their creations resulting in bright heavily patterned jumpers as adopted by stars of the small screen. These included Bill Cosby in The Cosby Show and British TV hosts such as Noel Edmunds in Noel’s House Party,” says Dr Wild.
However, the festive knitwear of this time was still a long way from some of the multi-sensory and eccentric Christmas jumpers we see today. “Kurt Griswold wore jumpers decorated with geometric patterns rather than reindeer heads, snowmen and Santa in the National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989), Macaulay Culkin’s jumpers were no more festive when he defended his family residence from the “Wet Bandits” in Home Alone (1990). Christmas jumpers were similarly plain in the television-movie Christmas in Connecticut (1992), directed by Arnold Schwarzenegger. However, almost ten years later, Colin Firth wore his striking black roll neck featuring a red-nosed Rudolph in the first Bridget Jones movie (2001), which helped pave the way for the Christmas jumpers we know and love today,” says Dr Wild.
From the Box to the Shops (Present Day and Future)
The nation’s growing love for Christmas jumpers shows no sign of slowing down. George at Asda sold 2,500 in 2012 with just two styles and today, the retailer is currently stocking over 50 festive styles selling over one million Christmas jumpers to date. George research also reveals one in five Brits (19%) – 12.3 million people - will don a Christmas jumper on the big day.
Commenting on our love for Christmas Jumpers and current day styles, Dr Benjamin Wild says, “The Christmas jumper has become a popular purchase and has a particular appeal among Brits because of their enjoyment of quirky and playful humour, although it has become a source of merriment in America, where ‘Ugly Christmas Sweater’ contests are held. In recent years, the geometric pattern that characterised these early winter woollies has become more common in Britain as well as the more over-the-top designs.”
A George spokesperson says, “Whilst traditional festive figures like elves and Santa are popular in sales of today’s Christmas jumper, the over-the-top designs tend to perform better than the more muted styles. To meet demand, we’ve bought more into those designs this year, which include 3D elements, fairy lights and even sound chips.
“The Christmas fashion trend is now transcending knitwear into festive jersey t-shirts, sweatshirts and nightwear. Our dog festive jumpers are also selling fast so it seems both owners and pets will continue to get into the Christmas spirit!”
Talking about the future of Christmas jumpers, Dr Benjamin Wild adds, “We are already starting to see multi-sensory jumpers with sounds and lights. Three-dimensional printing and wearable technology would definitely make the winter woolly a greater sensory experience and push up the demand for novelty statement Christmas jumpers.
“Using fibre-optics, there could even be the possibility to sync jumper designs, colours and sounds via a mobile phone app, to enable family, friends and colleagues to coordinate their jumpers for the most dramatically festive and fashionable scene!”