Photo: David Newkirk
This year I’ve become unnaturally obsessed with the ridiculous beauty of the Christmas sweater: the revolting fabulousness that frightens every sense and makes us shudder in fear over this unnecessary time of year. I’m dying for one! Every year for X-mas my mom makes Mormon handcraft, as I have six brothers and sisters, with somewhere around thirty nieces and nephews and about seven brats strewn about them. Mom and Pop could go broke over holiday shopping, let alone spending my inheritance. I’ve come to the point of dying to see what’s coming each season. One year it was a red and black afghan that was a nod to my band PEPPERSPRAY, another it was a knitted scarf a mile long and yet another brought couch-pillows made from animal prints. My friend Justin saw my mom buying sparkly jewel things from Decades, explaining that she was “making ‘kooky quilts’ this year”. I can only imagine what that could be.
One pre-holiday season my mom visited me in California and brought the latest in her homemade couture collection: a forest green XL sweatshirt with a puffy painted Sylvester and Tweety Bird on it. Sylvester festively adorned a Santa hat and Tweety spoke from a word bubble wishing his nemesis “Happy Christmas, hep cat” (my mom’s from the beat generation). Taking the neck over the shoulder, I belted it and sported white ruffle bum panties, over-the-knee hooker boots and Santa hat to match the feline. It was a huge hit, especially after everyone found it was hand painted by my mother.
I realize a puffy painted sweatshirt doesn’t match the scenic beauty and wonder of a Christmas sweater, but it’s the closest I’ve gotten. I actually never gave Christmas sweaters much thought until my friend DJ Justin Strange was talking about his yearly pilgrimage to the thrift stores to snatch up said sweaters and sell them to consignment stores, who mark them up and move them on to housewives and party-goers alike. Since these pieces of fabric that have such an interesting re-life from store to closet to party to never-ending, it must have an equally intriguing history. I tracked down the experts to see if I could find just where the Christmas sweater originated.
I set my sights on the foremost expert of the matter, none other than the lovely and talented Leslie Hall, chanteuse of Leslie and the LY’s. Leslie purchased her first “jem sweater” (one she describes almost maternally) in 1997 for a school dance and quickly became addicted to the attention she received. Along with its ability to slightly bag while cradling her curves, it also absorbed moisture. Soon enough Leslie had enough to fill a 1974 Starcraft motor home she purchased on eBay. Her traveling trailer of tackiness displays her collection in the majestic fashion they truly deserve, educating both sweater queens and drunken sailors in the process. Leslie told me the jem sweater originated as a hybrid of the Elvis jumpsuit and the 20s bedazzled Flapper dress. Her love of the jem sweater, however, does not extend to theme—including Christmas sweaters. In Leslie’s opinion, the Christmas sweater in not a true jem sweater and is therefore not recognized in the Jem Sweater Museum. CURSES!
Being no closer to my answer, I took to the streets (well, Facebook) to dive deep into this fete-du-fashion. I asked my worldwide friends the origin and purpose of the Christmas sweater. The best story came from my dear friend Kate Bush, a world renowned graphic artist from Canada: “These sparkle fashions are god’s favorite (non-subtle) way for women (and strange men) to passively communicate four or five socially-comforting memories to other terrified human beings. They are a knitted regurgitation of known and recognizable visual narratives, that deliberately attempts to seduce those around the sweater into group merriment and spontaneous calendar-driven conversation. It is exactly like what cavemen used to do with cave paintings, except it is on boobs and not on walls and none of it is exciting, beautiful or dangerous.”
Well there you have it, or don’t have it: the ever-elusive Christmas sweater. I can’t believe with all my clout and pull in the fashion world I was unable to crack its mysterious past. I find an alarming similarity to the line of hideous sparkle-ware destructively spewed onto the earth by Ed Hardy. I found both to be enjoyed by overweight housewives who are too old for such adornment. If you feel the need to aquire an amazing Christmas sweater, I suggest a gift certificate to my favorite, Consignment Circuit on 3300 S and 1464 E, which incidentally has the largest selection of these warm wonders of the world. I am committed to my search until I crack this mystery. Hopefully, the sacred story of how Princess Kennedy saved Christmas from the evil hand of a bad French designer may be shared throughout the holiday season.