Did the Christmas jumper – with its over-the-top, graceless charm – wear down our innate understanding that all knitwear should be as simple as possible? Over the years, this seasonal staple has crept into our consciousness like a bad sprout and made a lasting cultural impact. Because now, especially after Harry Styles rode his patchwork JW Anderson cardigan into viral ubiquity, the jumper has been transformed.
These days, a knit has to be striking in order to work. But let’s be clear: I’m not talking about bad caricatures woven into wool; alarmingly cosy words shouting at you in a bad typeface, or feckless reindeers and inappropriate baubles. What we’re looking at are big, bright colours and eccentric shapes coming together to create a pattern that’s easy to obsess over.
On the menswear catwalk JW Anderson and Sacai have used their jumpers as canvases to reproduce an impressionistic style I like to call “the painting you remember seeing on the wall of a rightwing relative you were forced to visit when you were six”. Or, for more uplifting references, think Dolly Parton’s Coat Of Many Colours and Joseph’s Technicolor Dreamcoat.
The idea of the “jumper-as-canvas” may be the Christmas jumper’s fault, but it can actually produce thrilling results, such as Dior’s 2020 collaboration with Ghanaian artist Amoako Boafo, which produced wearable artworks as powerful as they were beautiful.
Even more abstract versions of the jazzy knit work when worn with other elements that are muted and conservative. After all these years of thinking we had to wear our knitwear subtly, it feels strange that a jumper can now be an outfit’s statement piece.