Holiday sweaters are like fruitcakes: People love them or loathe them. But the annual appearance of the motif knitwear heralds the arrival of the holiday season as sure as that unwieldy candied-fruit loaf dents the floor.
What defines a holiday sweater?
Think of the four Cs: color, character and cloying cuteness.
Red and green -- colors paired up only on traffic signals for 11 months of the year -- are donned as gay apparel come December. Cartoon characters, normally reserved for children's sleepwear, move front and center on grown-up sweaters during the holidays, granting reindeer, snowmen and bears (both teddy and polar varieties) temporary designer-logo status.
And cute? Oh my goodness! Have you ever seen a penguin ice skating? A gingerbread man dancing with top hat and candy cane? A noble evergreen with Velcro ornaments, detachable for washing? Donatella Versace can't hold a candle to these festive fashions, and if she did, the synthetic wonders would probably go up in flames faster than a yuletide log. (But before you ho-ho-ho at the use of unnatural fibers, check the dry-cleaning bill for getting the eggnog off that hootchy-kootchy Gucci number.)
Holiday sweaters are the archetypal moms of fashion. They are the flour-on-her-face-from-baking-sugar-cookies mom, the smiling-with-a-welcoming-cup-of-cocoa mom, the "only-present-I-want-is-your-presence" mom. Never mind if, in reality, Mom's Christmas cuisine consisted of green-stuffed Oreo cookies. Holiday sweaters are a wearable maternal hug.
Despite the best efforts of the current Victoria's Secret catalog, a red turtleneck with tinsel-tree motif is not sexy. The blonde with the Barbie-doll body wearing the red turtleneck with tinsel-tree motif is sexy. Do not confuse the two.
Holiday sweaters are the antithesis of erotic. Holiday sweaters are sweet. The people who wear them are sweeter. No one wearing a Santa sweater would ever raise a middle finger in traffic, cut in line at Starbucks or make fun of what other people choose to wear for the holidays.
Holiday sweaters may be the only true fashion left in this world.
Most current fashions are derivative, mere interpretations of genuine styles. They reference the past for inspiration. The holiday sweater is not trying to be anything but a holiday sweater. It is not a revival. It is not ironic. It is what it is.
A holiday sweater will not try to pull the wool over your eyes. The acrylic, maybe, but never the wool.