Every so often, a cultural tradition will arise mysteriously and with seemingly no roots; without a clear story but for the one that it creates for itself. Like a miracle. Or a curse. No, I am not talking about the baby Jesus. I’m talking about the scourge-turned-opportunity-for-theme-party known as the holiday sweater. Which really is just a Christmas sweater. There do exist sweaters with menorahs and whatnot on them, but they seem to be fewer and farther between and have never really made it into the dominant visual vernacular of Chanukah. They in fact seem to only appear within the context of an “Ugly Holiday Sweater” party and serve to thin out the sea of Christmas-themed knits. As for Kwanzaa (I think it has to do with the bounty of the harvest), I couldn’t find any evidence of there being a Kwanzaa sweater thing.
I know that gifting “ugly Christmas sweaters” exists among families SOMEWHERE. There are pictures, like the one of that unfortunate WASPy family up top; there are stories on the Internet; there are seasonal cards about them; a book all about how to throw an ugly Christmas sweater party; and now a whole movement about reclaiming the ugly Christmas sweater. Ironic people in their 20s and 30s can’t reclaim something or turn it into an absurdist theme party if it didn’t exist in earnest in the first place! And yet, I’ve never seen the ugly-Christmas-sweater-gift-from-Grandma in the wild, running free and proud on baby Jebus day. I’ve never heard firsthand of any of my friends or family receiving an ugly Christmas sweater in earnest or even in humor. But they are out there, because thrift stores are awash with them right now.
So despite having never experienced this mysterious tradition myself, I thought I’d spend the Monday before Christmas tossing out some Holiday/Christmas sweater reduxes. It seems like a cozy act, to wake up on Christmas morning and unwrap a sweater from Grandma. If your family is a sweater gift family, here are some suggestions you might want to send to Gran so that you can wear her gift for years to come without having to be drunk and ironic.
Dolce & Gabbana took the ugly Christmas sweater lineage REAL seriously and developed an entire winter line called, that’s right, the Ugly Christmas Sweater Collection. Many of our Christmas traditions come from Nordic ones and I actually wonder if somehow the Christmas sweater may have some minor beginning there. True or not, D&G took their inspiration for their Ugly Christmas Sweater line from the Nordic sweater. If you’re not already familiar with Nordic sweaters, look at Dale of Norway before you continue on with your life. Nordic sweaters are so named because they’re made using a knitting technique developed by Norwegians. Duh.
Originally, Nordic sweaters were only made in the natural color of the sheep the knitter got the wool from—so cream or black. Norwegians, unlike New Englanders, found that cream and black got boring pretty quickly, so they began combining two colors and knitting little V patterns on the sweaters. Patterns and colors evolved in complexity, and eventually the tops of Nordic sweaters were fancy and fun. The bottoms of the sweaters remained blank because Norwegians tucked their sweaters into baggy pants. Which sounds both intriguing and uncomfortable.
Thomas McBee and I were in The Tannery in Boston the other day and came across what might be my favorite take on the holiday sweater this season. Unfortunately, it’s for dudes. Fortunately, it’s Gant! Fair Isle sweaters are HUGE in menswear right now, and the patterning can look very holiday-ish! Their collection consists of many sweaters with strong, classic lines and tasteful snowflake patterns and anchors and various other fun things. Snowflakes are 100% non-denominational and therefore work for anyone.
If you want Gammy to spend less money, Topman has a Gant knock-off for way less.
If sweaters make you itchy, there’s always Fair Isle’s holiday sweater leggings.
On a slightly tangential note, if you’re flying somewhere for the holidays, consider wearing these instead of aesthetically offensive flannel pajamas, sweatpants, and Uggs. If I do anything in my time on this Earth, it will be to convince people to stop looking like lumpy time travelers from a depressed and lazy future when they travel. Spruce up! Leggings are comfortable on a plane!
I know people are into vintage and thrifting and such, so if you want your Christmas sweater gift to come secondhand, check out Music City Vintage.
And I don’t know where to find this ensemble, but I want it.
The other night I watched the Bill Cunningham documentary, which is possibly the only non-soul crushing documentary ever made. At one point Bill (or someone) talks about street photography being so fun because you can really see what’s trending, both consciously and unconsciously. Maybe it’s the tough economic times and accompanying theorized return to comfort ideas, or maybe it’s Dolce & Gabbana, but holiday and Fair Isle sweaters are all over the place in a completely non ironic way. Which is my favorite way for something to be.
So those are actually the only two picture I could find on the Internet of people not in a photo spread or on a runway, but I know my theory about this is totally true because I see people in real life wearing them all the time. I’ve never been able to ask strangers if I could get pictures of them to prove my style hunches. Does Kanye always just walk around with a microphone?
There should be more non-hoodie hoods and more reindeer in life. TRAVEL ALERT! Those sweaters would also be so, so comfy to wear through airport security and onto the flying coffin. If you want to signal to your seat neighbor/stranger that you’re tired of him drunkenly remarking “Hey! We’re in the same row! How about THAT!” [true story from my life], you can just put your hood up.
The Brooklyn Circus took their holiday sweater line to new heights by combining the holiday sweater idea with an Ivy League sport team thing. It’s pretty brilliant.
And finally, here are two extremes of how you can view your Christmas/holiday sweater philosophy:
1. Homemade Political Statement.
2. Wealthy model ski resort lifestyle.