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the style evolution of santa: from saintly to sexy

The bishop Saint Nicholas and his modern day counterpart.

With the holiday season only just behind us, the image of Santa Claus is likely still fresh in our memories. That’s right, the portly old man who saunters around in a red suit perfect for those artic temperatures. Santa and his iconic garb are now ingrained into our popular consciousness, seen in countless films, advertisements and – more recently – in ‘sexy’ incarnations. We’ve come quite far from Saint Nicholas, the 4th century Bishop who started this whole hullabaloo.

Saint Nicholas, patron saint of thieves and pawnbrokers among others, though not the most stylish fellow, sticking to traditional Bishop’s Robes and often donning a red mitre, certainly was generous. After donating his sizable inheritance to the needy, it’s said that Saint Nicholas went on to perform more good deeds, most notably paying the dowries of three poor sisters, which led to his reputation as gift-giver. So about all Saint Nicholas and our modern day Santa Claus share is a white beard and a charitable disposition.

More closely related to modern Santa is the Nordic character Sinterklaas, celebrated on Saint Nicholas’ name day, January the 6th. When Dutch brought Sinterklaas over to America, his cultural assimilation began, as his frame filled out and he traded in his pastoral staff for a bottle Coca Cola and his Chasuble for perhaps a more practical fur-lined suit. Sinterklaas was then corrupted into our English Santa Claus, and with the help of illustrators such as Thomas Nast and Norman Rockwell, by the turn of the century the modern image of Santa was cemented into our western psyche.

It took a while for a woman to be introduced into the tradition, with Mrs. Claus making her first appearance 1849. Portrayed as a traditional housewife, Mrs. Claus (whose first name remains a mystery) has a wardrobe compiled of dress and aprons always matching her husband’s – as all normal couples do. A more recent female-oriented addition to the Christmas tradition are the Sexy Santa costumes that make an appearance once a year. With global lingerie brands like Victoria’s Secret promoting Sexy Santa lines each Chritmas, it’s difficult to ignore the contrast between models in their underwear and an old man dressed for artic weather.

The Sexy Santa costume, like most sexy insert-occupation-here costumes, hasn’t been around too long, but has certainly made quite a mark in popular culture. Think of the beautiful Christmas themed illustrated pin-up girls of the 1950s, Mariah Carey’s new 2011 music video for her 1994 hit ‘All I want for Christmas is you’ or the infamous performance of Jingle Bell Rock in the 2004 film Mean Girls. These woman all appear confident and pleased with both themselves and what they’re wearing, however, just as with any other time a woman decides to wear clothing that’s deemed ‘too revealing’ slut-shaming comes into play. Slut-shaming is much more prevalent on Halloween (more of which you can read about here) and whilst I’d agree that some costumes are a bit of a stretch to sulty (Sexy Hamburger anyone?) I believe any woman can and should be a ‘sexy-whatever’, so long as she feels comfortable and confident. So if you feel great in a Sexy Santa outfit then wear the hell out of it.

I just hope that by the next time Christmas rolls around we remember that it’s a lovely time of year where we celebrate the jolly amalgamation of global traditions, folklore and some successful marketing that is Santa Claus: be thankful, be happy and hey – maybe even be a bit sexy. I’m just looking forward to getting out my sexy Hannukkah outfit again.


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