Bankers Don Reindeer Tops to End Gloomy 2012 With Ironic Fashion

Once a holiday gift from granny to be consigned to the closet, reindeer and snowflakes on retro Christmas sweaters are the latest cool in British fashion.

Company executives and bankers who in the past wouldn’t have dreamed of sporting such garish attire are among those who this year are donning the knitwear for anything from parties to charity events.

“It’s a big trend,” said Nick Robertson, chief executive officer of U.K. online fashion retailer Asos Plc. “It’s slightly tongue-in-cheek, but they are doing really well,” said the 45-year-old CEO, who admitted to wearing a red-and-black reindeer sweater, known as a jumper in the U.K., to Christmas work events this year.

Asos shifted “thousands” of 30-pound ($48) festive knits within two weeks of putting them on its website this season, head of buying James Barron said, while billionaire Philip Green’s Topman and department-stores John Lewis and Debenhams Plc have reported a surge in purchases. Luxury retailers Selfridges and Harrods have also got in on the act.

“It’s a light-hearted, ironic thing,” said Charlotte Casey, knitwear editor at fashion forecaster WGSN. “Men are becoming more extrovert in what they are prepared to wear,” she said, citing a shift toward items previously considered untouchable such as the “onesie,” an all-in-one jumpsuit made popular by boy band One Direction and stars from “The Only Way Is Essex” television series. “Partly, it’s a confidence thing.”

Jumpers for Bankers

Lloyds Banking Group Plc, the biggest U.K. mortgage lender, expects most of the staff at its London head office to come to work wearing a festive sweater tomorrow as part of its efforts to raise cash for Save the Children. The charity is tapping into “the current trend,” while asking for a 1-pound donation per person, Save the Children spokesman Terence Lovell said.

James Cassidy, who works in digital banking at Lloyds “will be rocking my Christmas jumper” for the event, he said in an e-mail. His wife bought the navy blue item with white snowflakes around the chest at the budget Primark chain last year and the banker has already worn it this season.

At Debenhams, the U.K.’s second-largest department-store chain, sales of Christmas jumpers are up 1,420 percent this year after the retailer tripled its range of products, according to spokeswoman Helen Lacey.

“The Christmas jumper is a fashion hit this year, and we’ve seen men’s festive knits flying off the shelves,” Lacey said by e-mail. “They’re definitely the trend of the season.”

‘Really Cool’

Asos, the U.K.’s largest online-only fashion retailer, has a whole section on its website dedicated to men’s Christmas jumpers to help young shoppers “keep your knitwear the right side of cool,” according to advice on the website. Ninety-six jumpers are on offer, including a 30-pound own-brand version.

SuperGroup Plc’s Superdry Fairisle knits “are big sellers and aren’t tongue-in-cheek,” said Julian Dunkerton, CEO of the Cheltenham, England-based retailer. “They are actually really cool versus one with a reindeer on it.”

Christmas jumpers didn’t use to be hip. Bridget Jones, the perennially single heroine of the best-selling novels, was famously unimpressed by the first sighting of her soon-to-be boyfriend Mr. Darcy as he was wearing a festive reindeer knit.

TopMan increased its range of the seasonal warmers by 10 percent this year in anticipation of stronger demand. The enhanced offer has lifted sales of Christmas sweaters by 54 percent, with close to 6,000 items being sold online, including the best-selling, 38-pound navy reindeer jumper, the chain’s personal shopping manager Giles Farnham said.

Harrods, Selfridges

“It’s a fun way to look good at Christmas without taking yourself too seriously,” Farnham said. “Our customers said they would spend hours trawling vintage shops looking for a fun Christmas inspired piece of knitwear.” Now “we have such a wide variety they come to us.”

Even the wealthy are getting into the spirit of things. Harrods has a Brunello Cucinelli cashmere snowflake jumper for 1,150 pounds available on its website, while Selfridges is selling a 255-pound Ralph Lauren toggle mock-neck jumper with a red, green and white fair-isle pattern around the chest.

The shift toward knitted attire for men is something that WGSN expects to last beyond December. Gone are the days when children were bullied for wearing knitted jumpers, according to Casey.

“Now knitwear is more a trendy fashion statement for men,” she said. “They are much less ashamed about wearing statement jumpers.”

At Lloyds in London, all manner of garments will be on show at the charity event and not just by the men. Sophie Gregory, who works in the digital banking team, said she will be sporting a 9-pound Primark version with a big Santa face and furry beard.

“It’s fun, festive and everyone can join in,” she said.

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