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Were Christmas jumpers always a thing? Or is the rise of Rudolph-bedecked knitwear a modern invention? Either way, they have become unavoidable, as vital to any office Christmas party as buttock photocopying and blazing rows about Brexit. Metal band Slayer even has two options in its merch store, bedecked in festive pentagrams.

They are also, on almost every level, terrible. Ugly, of course, although that’s kind of the point. But less forgivably, they’re basically made of plastic, which in this post-Blue Planet world is not the kind of thing to give a man a festive glow (although considering how poorly they breathe, odds are you will end up glowing if you do wear one). As with anything that’s only worn as a joke, they’re also inherently disposable; a third of all Christmas jumpers are only worn once, and a quarter are binned the same year. Which translates as a lot of polyester sent to landfill.

Now, that’s all very bah humbug, you may think, and we’re certainly not trying to dilute your Christmas spirit. But this year, we’d like to steer you towards a festive knit that’s not just for Christmas.

Look back at history’s greatest Christmas sweater-wearers – Val Doonican, Andy Williams, Noel Edmonds – and you’ll find them sporting knitwear that is, while not exactly tasteful, at least light on Santas, Frostys and, well, lights. Instead, they reached for Fair Isle knits, which use pattern, colour and – most importantly – context to spread Christmas cheer.

To knitting enthusiasts, ‘Fair Isle’ is a very specific technique, but to us laymen it’s become a catch-all for any knitwear with multiple colours in repeating patterns. Their beauty is that they’re often fairly abstract, which means that unlike a flashing fir tree, they feel Christmassy at Christmas, but just wintry in January. They’ve also been around since at least the mid-19th century, which means they’re full of tradition and family craft handed down through generations. You can’t get much more Christmassy than that.

You can go as bright – or as muted – as your level of festive cheer sees fit. And after New Year, they’ll play like any other piece of knitwear in your wardrobe, slotting under an overcoat or adding a warm and fuzzy feel to your basic jeans-and-trainers look. Best of all, because they never date, you’ll be able to dust yours off for next year’s Christmas party. Although we bet that you’ll fall have fallen so in love with yours that you’ll have slipped it on long before December rolls round.

Words: Tom Banham
Photography: Chris Howlett and Jon Cardwell
Styling: Millie Rich