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FashionLife & Style

The history behind Christmas fashion

photo of crazy couple making selfies sticking tongues winking eyes v signing wear funky ugly ornaments jumpers isolated red color background
iStock photo, Deagreez

From Christmas sweaters to glamorous dresses, we just love to dress up to mark the festive season. By Niki Charalambous

Winter has finally arrived with the first flakes of snow falling on the Troodos mountain peaks as the temperatures drop, ushering in the holiday season. Shop owners have already adorned their establishments, Christmas gifts abound, and Netflix and other streaming services have become a go-to for their festive entertainment lineup.

Although most of us tried to extend the wonderful Cyprus summer, the excitement of the holiday season and all that it has to offer brings in its own merriment as we pack up our swimming gear and pull out our winter warmers.

There has always been fashion to go along with important celebrations, and Christmas is no exception. In fact, fashion has played an important role in the evolution of the modern holiday, with people wearing crazy Christmas sweaters to add to the joy of the season. But where did most of our current trends come from, and how has history influenced the styles, sizes, forms and colours we wear?

It is hard to recall a time when the shades of red and green were not associated with Christmas. The colour red was inspired by Bishop Saint Nicholas, also known as Nicholas of Smyrna, who lived in the fourth century.

saint nicholas
Saint Nicholas

Bishop Nicholas wore a crimson robe and was known for his kindness and compassion. He frequently offered gifts and gave away his riches to needy children, where legend has it that he would throw gold sacks through windows and down chimneys.

Santa, of course, is the most recognised fashion icon in western culture. With his red coat and white fur trim, he’s easily identified in an outfit that reflects his tremendous compassion and generosity. However, the red suit we know today was inspired by Thomas Nast, a political cartoonist whose illustrations for Harper’s Weekly magazine in the late 1800s depicted Santa delivering gifts in a Union Army camp.

In the 1930s, Haddon Sundblom’s work for Coca-Cola helped popularise the modern Santa suit. Sundblom’s portrayal also established the norm for the jolly, rotund, bearded man we’ve come to love and acted as a much-needed beacon of optimism throughout the Great Depression. Green, on the other hand, signified the fir trees and holly featured in his works of art, which came to characterise Christmas.

fashion haddon sundbloms
Haddon Sundbloms

So, where did the eccentric Christmas jersey originate from? It all starts, unsurprisingly, with Northern Europe’s icy Nordic countries. Heavy, patterned jerseys were first made from sheep’s wool by local women in fifteenth-century Norway.

Christmas jumpers gained popularity in the United Kingdom during the 1980s as television stars such as Gyles Brandreth and Timmy Mallett started wearing them throughout the holidays. They were perceived as prank gifts in the 1990s and 2000s, and were highlighted as something to be embarrassed about, such as in the 2001 film Bridget Jones’ Diary, but they gained popularity in the 2010s, with online retailer Amazon estimating a 600 per cent increase in sales in 2011, particularly when the trend was followed by several celebrities.

The Daily Telegraph in the United Kingdom hailed them as “this season’s must have” in 2012, with retailer Topman selling 34 different styles and estimating a 54 per cent increase in sales over 2011. Christmas jumpers have also been released by high-end fashion brands such as Burberry and Jil Sander.

Every December, humanitarian organisation Save the Children holds a Christmas Jumper Day with the tagline “Make the world a better place with a jumper.” It encourages people to donate to charities by wearing Christmas sweaters on a specific day.

Every year, ordinary individuals enjoy wearing Christmas clothing, which has changed considerably throughout the years. During times of tragedy and financial difficulty, people looked for reasons to celebrate and look attractive; they found an outlet over the Christmas season.

Most people nowadays dress casually or even wear their pyjamas to open the gifts under the tree. Christmas attire varies widely across the northern and southern hemispheres. A bright Christmas jumper in the United States or the United Kingdom is often replaced with swimwear in places like Australia or South Africa where the Christmas season is spent largely by the coast.

When it comes to work-related events or holiday celebrations, Christmas has always been the ideal time to get dressed up. Finding the perfect Christmas outfit that embodies the excitement and spirit of the season is a tradition as old as the holiday itself.

Not much has changed in that regard. Glamour, elegance, extravagance, and even statement jewellery were all popular holiday dress trends throughout the Victorian era, and they are still fashionable today.

Whether it’s pyjamas or novelty sweaters, the clothes we wear at Christmas are out of place at any other time of year. There is no definite answer as to whether one should dress up like the Victorians or down like Bridget Jones, but it is important to remember that everything we see today has a tinge of history associated with it.

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