It’s Christmas Eve, and we thought the best way to combine the joy of the season with our love of all things menswear was to take a quick look back at the sartorial history of the veritable man of the hour himself, Santa Claus! His fashion sense has changed quite a bit over the years, along with his waistline, and we guarantee you wouldn’t recognize the guy from a few centuries ago as the big, jolly fellow we know and love today. Red wasn’t even always his favorite color. We know, shocking. On with the show!
The Santa Claus story was, of course, based on a real man – St. Nicholas of Myra. So the earliest depictions of Santa stuck to the fairly accurate historical image of an early Christian bishop, vestments and all. When the vestments of a Bishop became red with white lacing, the depictions of St. Nick changed accordingly, giving him the familiar color scheme.
He remained a basic Christian Bishop until the early 19th Century, and his clothes kept changing to remain fairly contemporary to what Bishops of the time were wearing.
Into the late 1800s, the story of St. Nicholas was blended with English traditions of Father Christmas and Norse legends from Scandinavia, giving Santa his standard accessory of reindeers, as well as a more magical, elfin appearance. The green of the English Father Christmas only lasted as far as “A Christmas Carol’s” depiction of the “Ghost of Christmas Past,” which went a long way towards splitting the images apart.
By the end of the 1800s, Santa had begun to look like we know him today, all the vestiges of a stern Bishop gone, the color scheme and basic outfit in place.
In the early part of the 20th Century, Santa owed much of his appearance to Thomas Nast’s painting of him in Harper’s Bazaar, which gave him a considerably more elfin appearance that stuck for several decades, but also gave him the familiar gut and pipe.
It wasn’t until Coca-Cola used Santa in its advertising in the 1930s that Santa became a full-sized man again. The Coke depiction was so popular and iconic, that it completely overwhelmed the others, becoming the de facto depiction of Santa Claus.
The image Coke created stays with us today, and seems unlikely to change now that’s its become entrenched worldwide.