Five Christmas Fashion Trends We Should Bring Back – And May Be Found in Your Wardrobe Already

By Bethan Bide, a lecturer in design and cultural theory at the University of Leeds. Cross posted from The Conversation

Christmas is a season for partying and dressing up. Sequins, Santa hats and ugly Christmas jumpers abound. Each event seems to demand a new and different outfit.

While this clothes buying bonanza may boost fashion retail profits, it also leads to a vast amount of waste as many items end up in landfill by the new year. For a season so steeped in tradition and nostalgia, this emphasis on new clothes seems out of place.

Instead of buying new outfits each December, research suggests we can both help save the planet and boost our own wellbeing by re-wearing garments and making them part of our Christmas traditions.

If you are stuck for inspiration about how to dress better and more meaningfully this holiday season, here are some of the best festive trends from the history of fashion that are ripe for revival and can be easily found in your wardrobe.

Dazzle camouflage costume ball at the Chelsea Arts Club in 1919. Wikimedia, CC BY

1. The Silk Christmas Scarf

The 20th century was the golden age of the printed silk scarf. In the 1930s, silk manufacturers, such as British firm Jacqmar, began to produce beautifully designed scarves as a way of marketing their artistic textiles.

During rationing in the second world war the printed propaganda scarf became a must-have fashion accessory that could be used to update an old outfit. From the 1950s onwards, patriotism gave way to novelty prints, including Christmas-themed scarves.

French and Italian luxury brands were particularly good at these, with Hermès leading the way in charming traditional designs and Moschino producing fun and irreverent prints. Silk scarves are free of microplastics and can be used to make an existing outfit instantly festive. Infinitely more chic and sustainable than your polyester Christmas Jumper.

2. Dressing All in Green

The mysterious handsome giant from the Arthurian romance Sir Gawain and the Green Knight might seem an unusual source for festive fashion tips, but the Green knight dresses with symbolically loaded style.

When he shows up to King Arthur’s New Year celebrations looking to play a Christmas Game, the Knight is dressed head to toe in emerald green, including matching hood and fur-trimmed mantle. The outfit also includes costly silk in gold and green stripes and decorative embroidery, topped off with a bough of holly.

Academics have published lengthy papers debating exactly what this strange outfit means, but it is undeniably eye catching. Who needs a Christmas tree when you can dress as one? Many of us have green clothing already to put to good festive use.

3. Dazzle Fancy Dress Costumes

Fancy dress parties have their origins in the masquerades that grew around European carnival season in the 15th Century and the historical costume balls of 19th century Britain.

But the most fabulous era of fancy dress occurred in the first decades of the 20th century, culminating with the fabled Chelsea Arts’ Club New Year’s Eve Ball , which ran from 1908 to 1958 in London.

Attendees competed to wear the most novel creations, dressing as everything from mythical sea creatures to art movements. During the first world war, there was a trend for costumes in the abstract patterns of “dazzle” camouflage.

These intersecting geometric patterns in contrasting colours were painted onto ship hulls to make it hard for the enemy to estimate the vessel’s course. The eye-catching designs proved so popular with fancy dress fashionistas that they became the subject of a special “dazzle”-themed Arts Club ball in 1919.

4. Wooden Shoes

Wooden clogs have traditionally played an important role in Dutch Christmases, with children leaving them out on 5 December for Sinterklaas (based on Saint Nicholas and also an inspiration for Santa Claus) to fill with treats. In modern times, they could provide a practical answer to keeping your party shoes looking their best for another year.

Wooden clog-like overshoes called pattens were widely worn in Europe from the medieval period to the 19th century to protect thin-soled shoes over the winter season. They were used by pedestrians who walked in streets caked in mud and where food waste and excrement were all deposited.

By the 17th century, their soles were specially shaped so your existing shoes slotted right in. Fancier versions even had luxurious silk straps to match the fabric of the delicate shoes they covered. While these sorts of clogs aren’t common anymore, wooden clogs have become popular (dare I say fashionable) again but tend to only be worn in more temperate weather. You now have an excuse to get them out again this Christmas.

5. Party Pyjamas

Christmas is a season for inviting friends and family over, and the hostess pyjama is the perfect outfit in which to receive your guests.

Pyjamas began as a menswear trend in Western fashion when 19th-century British colonial forces took a fancy to the lightweight drawstring trousers worn in India. They made their transition to womenswear in the 1920s as a summer resort fashion in the form of elegant linen beach pyjamas.

Before long, designers such as Coco Chanel were producing versions in velvet, silk and sequins for winter evening-wear. The trend was cemented in the 1930s by leading figures in the fashion world, including Vogue editor Diana Vreeland.

These party pyjamas are the perfect combination of dressy yet comfortable and have room enough to accommodate an extra helping of pudding and should be worn and enjoyed all year round.

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  1. DJG, Reality Czar

    From the underlying Vox article by Constance Grady:

    He’s a giant with green flesh and a green horse, green clothes embroidered with birds and butterflies, and he’s carrying a holly branch. Scholars sometimes read the Green Knight as a descendent of the pagan Green Man, who symbolizes the natural world, chaos, and rebirth.

    I’m not sure why Grady is being so cagey. Embroidery of birds and butterflies? Carrying a holly branch? Of course, he’s the Green Man, one of the most enduring symbols of nature–or better, the personification of nature. The Green Man turns up in all kinds of unusual places–here in the Chocolate City, the Green Man isn’t considered a foundational story in Italian culture, yet here he is, emblazoned above doors and windows of certain buildings, a possible lingering Celtic influence, watching the passersby with his sexy glances.

    As to party pyjamas (pajamas): Sorry. I’m getting a vibe that involves making trembly molds out of Kraft salad dressing, canned fruit, and “red” gelatine.

    I will stick with the Green Man when it comes to excellent pagan holdovers during this Yuletide.

    1. CanCyn

      I thought the same thing DJG. I have a friend who always wore all green on the day of office Xmas party. I always called her the Green Woman.

      Thanks for this post Conor. I especially enjoyed the pyjamas – Hilda Moore had it going on, no doubt about that! In the 70’s My Mom and Dad had caftans that they would wear for holiday entertaining, I always thought they looked like they were in their pyjamas.

  2. .human

    In this year of doom and gloom, Happy Holidays and Love to all.

    I have an old barn that when it is ready I’m going to have a Fezziwig party.

    1. CanCyn

      A Fezziwig party sounds like fun! I don’t celebrate this holiday anymore but do have fond memories of watching the old Christmas Carol that starred Alastair Sim as Scrooge. The best Scrooge IMO. I always loved the polka scenes. Fezziwig’s and the nephew’s on Xmas day after Scrooge’s conversion.

  3. Arizona Slim

    After breakfast, I’m going to get on my bicycle and wish Tucson a Merry Christmas. And I wish the same to the NC community!

  4. Victor Sciamarelli

    Our rulers can take the lead. If President Biden addressed the nation with a Christmas/New Year’s message, “dressed head to toe in emerald green, including matching hood and fur-trimmed mantle” and red wooden shoes, it might help spread the message.
    Whether Sinterklaas or Santa Claus, I’m not impressed. Santa seems a bit out of touch these days.
    On the other hand, I believe in the existence of the anti-Claus. A shrewd character, intolerant, ruthless, and merciless for whom Santa is no match.
    No reason not to celebrate the holidays but be careful.

  5. ambrit

    I remember reading some of the “stories” that accreted about the character of the original Saint Nicolas. One was that he threw bags of coin into the bedroom of three poor sisters so as to supply them with dowries. (Without a dowry, a ‘respectable’ woman could not marry “well.”) This image is reproduced in book illustrations and icons from the pre-printing era.
    My “modernized” Santa is the Neo-liberal themed “Jackpot Claus.” To “reduce the surplus population,” our evil old Saint Nick tosses hand grenades into the bedrooms of “useless eater” breeding stock.
    Who says that the “bad old days” have a lock on evil? Unlike mere physical resources, there is no “Peak Evil.”
    Stay safe and keep eyes and ears open for mysterious ticking packages under the Christmas Tree.

    1. Skk

      Wayyy back when, 1980s, as an affectation I used to wear a white scarf, flying about 1930s retro style, while riding a motorbike. Then one day it got caught up in the rear wheel. Luckily, it snapped in two at a seam, and I just felt a slight tug, that’s all.

      Never again.

    2. Lunker Walleye

      For twenty + years, I painted one of a kind silk scarves. Silk is the most wonderful of fibers. It is cool in the summer and warm in the winter. It is also the most fabulous material for applying dyes with a brush. For this I give thanks to silk worms and those who developed dyes to make silk painting possible.

  6. JEHR

    In my fairly long lifetime I have sported wooden shoes, a silk Christmas scarf as a gift from my son, and I know about wearing pyjama bottoms for slacks but didn’t indulge myself!

  7. nippersdad

    “Instead of buying new outfits each December, research suggests we can both help save the planet and boost our own wellbeing by re-wearing garments and making them part of our Christmas traditions.”

    I found one of those red wool English hunting vests with the tiny shell buttons decades ago, it is even older than I am, and the only time I ever wear it is at Christmas time. I just love that thing, my wife likes to wear it too, and it really isn’t the holiday season until it can be rootled out of its bag from the dim recesses of the closet.

    There is a lot to be said for silly traditions like that. They are mood changing, and (for me, anyway) often that is just the kind of kick in the pants one needs to get into the holiday spirit.

  8. The Rev Kev

    If you live in a place that has lots of clothes from past decades in op shops and the like, you could have themed Christmas parties. One might be the era for the 40s or the 50s or the 60s, etc. So for the 60s you could wear second-hand clothes from that era, listen to music that was popular at the time and perhaps some gifts could reflect that era. No new clothing purchases be made and afterwards those clothes could be re-donated to a local charity.

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