Christmas Jumpers: To Love or to Loathe?

With the Christmas season in full swing, Label takes a look at one of the nation's most beloved fashion accessories: the humble Christmas jumper. While it is estimated that one in five Britons will wear one on December 25th, what do we really know about their origin? 

The British Christmas staple of the Christmas jumper is like another British staple: marmite. You either love it or you hate it and it is claimed there is no in-between. I have always been firmly on the side of hate. After all, the jumpers are bright, often tasteless, with their depictions of Santa and Rudolph springing out at the unfortunate soul who has to view one. However, in the spirit of goodwill, I decided to do a little digging and discover the origins of the humble Christmas jumper. I was pleasantly surprised that what I had always regarded as a rather tacky piece of clothing has a rich and varied history with links to fishermen, skiing and Hollywood. It would seem that the seasonal woolly is in fact more interesting than it would first appear.

The Christmas jumper originated in 19th century Scandinavian fishing villages. Wool jumpers with bright coloured bands were knitted by the women of the villages and worn by the fishermen out at sea for warmth when battling the freezing Artic and North Sea waters. It has been suggested that they served the duel purpose of being an identifier if the fishermen happened to die at sea. As each village had a different pattern, the body could easily be returned home. Perhaps a slightly morbid origin for a piece of clothing now associated with one of the happiest times of the year?


In a similar vein, woollen jumpers with geometric bands of colour were adopted by skiers for the purpose of warmth. Skiing became a particularly popular sport in the first half of the 20th century and especially after the Second World War with the opening of more and more resorts. Hollywood stars such as Clark Gable, Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman were fond of skiing, and due to their celebrity status were widely photographed. As such, the colourful woollen jumper was launched into the public sphere.

The Dior Autumn/Winter 1988 Show was one of many to feature chunky colourful knitwear and as is the general pattern; these jumpers began to filter into mainstream high street collections. Advertisers soon began to feature Christmas patterned woollen jumpers in Christmas advertising with television presenters such as Gyles Brandreth and Timmy Mallett wearing them in the 1980s.

 Ingrid Bergman, one of the Hollywood stars who helped popularise the Christmas jumper. 

Ingrid Bergman, one of the Hollywood stars who helped popularise the Christmas jumper. 

Since the early 1990s, these jumpers have become an essential part of the festive season for some people with charity Save the Children even hosting an annual nationwide Christmas Jumper Day every December. They also feature in popular culture with J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books depicting Mrs Weasley knitting one for each of her children and Harry every year. What is for certain is that the extensive range of patterns and colours now available ensures that each individual can find one that they like. From three-dimensional reindeer to simple snowflakes or pearls, there is something for everyone.

So love them or hate them, they have an intriguing background and personally the connection to Ingrid Bergman may have melted my frosty stance towards them just a little.


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