Once considered a bit of an eyesore, the novelty Christmas jumper is now a firm favourite among Brits again, with George at Asda expecting to sell over 600,000 Christmas jumpers this year alone.

[Read more: The best Christmas jumpers from the high street to get your festive fashion on]

But where did the traditional knits first originate?

Dr Benjamin Wild, fashion historian and consultant lecturer at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, let us in on the secret history of Christmas knits and what the future holds for the knitwear staple.  

Scandinavian beginnings (1890-1960)

The jumper’s history 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,” says Dr Wild.

“One suggestion is that this was to identify their bodies if they drowned at sea.”  

The jumpers became more widely known when they were worn by skiers.

“Skiers needed warm clothing as much as fishermen and as their sport developed during the first half of the 20th century, knitwear with bands of geometric patterns and colours influenced by forest landscapes became common skiwear."

Hollywood stars such as Clark Gable, Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman helped popularise the skiing lifestyle and, with it, the jumpers.

“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 1960s,” says Dr Wild.

[Read more: From a Jack Russell to a designer watch: Most bizarre items left after Xmas parties revealed]

Pop culture power (1960-2000s)

The growing popularity of 60s knitwear saw cardigans replace dresses and suits in Christmas advertising campaigns.


Photo credit: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock

Knitwear started to be used to entice customers to buy a range of festive goods and by the 1970s the winter woolly was officially associated with Christmas, according to Dr Wild.

“The pop culture and catwalk of the 80s and 90s 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.”

The future is bright (present day and future)

The nation’s growing love for Christmas jumpers shows no sign of slowing down.

According to research by George at Asda, one in five Brits will don a Christmas jumper on the big day.

“The Christmas jumper has become a popular purchase and has a particular appeal among Brits because of their enjoyment of quirky and playful humour.

“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.”

This year’s outlandish offerings at many retailers include lights, 3D elements and even sound chips and Dr Wild predicts the future of the Christmas jumper is a multi-sensory one.