Whenever I think of Christmas jumpers my mind rolls back to the original Bridget Jones’s Diary, wherein we see an embarrassed Bridget Jones and Mark Darcy forced to wear Christmas jumpers, out of tradition, to annual festive family gatherings. At the time the film was released, these jumpers were heinous – true crimes against fashion – in the eyes of both wearers and observers.
When the film is inevitably repeated on ITV2 in the run-up to Christmas, do me a favour and watch those cringey Christmas jumper scenes. And then tell me this: do they look as awful now? Does the protagonists’ embarrassment make sense any more? Not really, you’ll likely admit – because Christmas jumpers are de rigeur these days. The uglier, the better.
After being the reserve of embarrassing distant relatives for years, Christmas jumpers started having their moment over in the States in the early noughties, with college students and colleagues hosting popular ‘ugly Christmas sweater parties.’ The gimmicky concept slowly made its way over to the UK, but over here we can put our current Christmas jumper fixation down to that old mid-00s style trope we loved to loathe: hipsters.
While hipster subculture started out in America – it’ll be a surprise to many that it actually made its first waves in the 1940s – it had a huge impact here in the UK, as any millennial will now attest. For the uninitiated, hipsters did a great job of making the crusty look cool. For kids on a budget, becoming a hipster was easy because you didn’t have to spend any money and could instead just raid your granny’s wardrobe to find all the ugly knits, natty pearls and mouldy carpet-like patterns you’d need. See where the Christmas jumpers come in?
Naturally, Christmas jumpers now run the gamut from ironic-cool (perfect for the OG hipsters and tongue-in-cheek fashion lovers) to just plain cool (as seen on the glossy ‘influencer’ elite). Now Whoopi Goldberg has put her name to some naff-looking, but strangely covetable, Christmas jumpers and, at the opposite end of the style (and price) scale, The FMLY Store has recruited a bunch of celebrities to design a range of completely non-ironic Christmas sweaters that nobody would need convincing to wear.
Perhaps part of Christmas jumpers’ appeal has something to do with loosening up a little in the face of adversity. In today’s tumultuous times, we all arguably need a reprieve from the day-to-day grind, and Christmas always presents us with the perfect opportunity to do just that. And, while we’ve been feeling the pressure to be considered ‘cool’ by others since long before the internet was invented, there’s an even emphasis placed on looking polished – taking Mean Girls’s ‘you-can’t-sit-with-us’ greater mentality to the next level – now that we live in an Instagram age. The fashion industry has purposefully positioned Christmas jumpers as being the opposite of cool, meaning that, like all divisive fashion pieces, they now have a weird, paradoxical appeal.
And then there’s the Oxford English Dictionary’s new Word of the Year, ‘post-truth.’ Who can we trust these days? As Brexit has proved, even those of us who believe to possess good judgement can now easily be thrown by the glut of information imposed on us on a daily basis. The popularity of Christmas jumpers could be linked to a post-truth mentality as, as Laura Craik notes in The Times, “in an overcrowded market, what garners the most attention isn’t necessarily the most beautifully cut clothing, but the most outrageous.”
Will you be wearing a Christmas jumper this season? And, more importantly, do you take yourself seriously when wearing one – post-truth style – or just see it as a bit of fun for the festive period?