Seasonal sweaters: Wear them in the right spirit


Published: Tuesday, December 4, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, December 3, 2012 at 4:02 p.m.

The good, the bad, the kitschy. A "seasonal sweater" is one way to start a conversation at a holiday function.

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J.Crew shows a crewneck sweater decorated with an oversized bow motif at the neckline. (AP)

It's a look that can mean all sorts of things: sequins, bows, Fair Isle patterns, bunny rabbits and bird motifs, or even antlers. There's a fine line between a good seasonal sweater and a good one gone bad.

Even those have a place, though. Yup, there are Ugly Sweater parties and Ugly Sweater blogs. Stand Up for Cancer is hosting a social-media online Ugly Sweater fundraising campaign.

But before we go there, fashion insiders say there's a way to have your novelty and fun with style: Wear it in the right spirit.

From Saks Fifth Avenue to J. Crew and C. Wonder, carry good tidings and festive trimmings wherever you go. They bring a smile — and they're a good icebreaker, says style commentator Suze Yalof Schwartz.

Who could resist commenting on the glitzy giant bow sweater? she says. But wearer beware: You will be the center of attention.

The Saks way to do the sweater is "tasteful" with the right playful attitude, says Colleen Sherin, the retailer's senior fashion director. It's not going to be covered in Santas, but it could be decorated with clear or metallic sequins, for example.

"It's a trend for us — embellished tops and that includes embellished knits," says Sherin. "It's nodding to the festive nature of the season, but we're also seeing embellishment for daytime as a trend."

Anu Narayanan, Old Navy's vice president of women's merchandising, says you don't have to wait for the party invite.

"In my opinion, a seasonal sweater is anything that signals the change in weather. It's the iconic, go-to item that makes you feel like being cozy near a fire with a cup of cocoa. For some it may be a chunky cable, for others a holiday motif or a bit of shine," says Narayanan.

Narayanan puts antlers, snowflakes and sparkle on her list of seasonal-sweater dos. Just don't wear them all at once.

"You don't want to have it all with these sweaters," agrees Schwartz, who also warns against combining this with another popular look of layering prints and patterns.

Take your one novelty item — making sure the sweater is a long, lean shape and in a thin knit — and pair it with something simple and slim on the bottom, maybe skinny jeans or leather leggings, says Schwartz, editor-in-chief of the blog TallSkinnyRich.com.

Narayanan envisions these sweaters with a pencil skirt and tights, or maybe boyfriend jeans rolled at the cuff with a heel or slim cords with ballet flats.

Of course, the most traditional vintage ski design or a Fair Isle goes with fitted apres-ski stretch pants and a fur-trimmed down vest.

Kids and teens could get away with something a little more outrageous; they have a knack for making kitschy cool, says Tara Ryan, head of design for Mini Boden. "Tween girls, especially, really like quite cheesy things done in an amusing and clever way. They like the scale to be unexpected or add an unexpected twist. They maybe would wear reindeer antlers (on their sweaters) instead of the reindeer face."

Younger kids seem partial to sweaters covered with woodland creatures, including foxes, owls and birds, she reports, and while boys like the traditional colors, girls like shine and bright shades.

So many girls seem to have motorcycle-style boots in their closets, too, and they are the perfect counterbalance to the seasonal sweater — no matter what your age, Ryan says.

There's a character on Disney Channel's animated show "Gravity Falls," about the quirky adventures of a brother and sister, who makes it a habit to wear sweaters that take novelty to the extreme. Mabel — and her wardrobe — are based on the real-life twin sister of creator Alex Hirsch.

He recalls with a laugh her lime-green, troll-doll sweater. "Even in my young elementary-school mind, I registered that it was kind of weird."

Yet, he adds, she gets the last laugh since Mabel is the breakout character. "She's the one everyone wants to party with."

Pam Williams, a member of Stand Up to Cancer's Executive Leadership Council, says the organization jumped on sweaters because people are "sporting these once shunned garments with pride."

She calls them "everyone's favorite holiday trend."

Be mindful of the company you might be keeping, however. You want it to be interpreted with the good humor you intended.

Pull out the sweater on your way to a holiday brunch, a lunch with girlfriends or a family gathering, not the office party or dinner at your husband's boss' house.

And, don't accessorize with a straight face. "You are out to have fun in this," Schwartz says. "You are not wearing it talking politics or how to save the world."

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