Close your eyes and think of Santa’s outfit. What do you see? Chances are, it’s a red suit, black boots and a wide black belt with a big buckle. Here’s something to think about – he didn’t always dress this way. If you were to look back, way back, into Santa’s closet, you would find some pretty great outfits. The clothing you would find there would represent a fascinating merging and shifting of his diverse cultural, religious and mythological roots as he evolved over hundreds of years and around the globe.
You would see the simple clerical robes and mitre of the pious St. Nicholas, revered for his acts of charity. You might discover the warm, soft furs of 5th century King Winter, when you could invite him to sit next to your fire, feed him some cake and hope for a milder winter.
Peer deep inside that closet and you might also notice the beautiful, green velvet cloak of the English Father Christmas. This gentle figure travelled the forests, head wreathed in ivy, holly and mistletoe, giving hope for new life during the long winter months.
Closer to the front of the closet, we would see a suit we would still recognize - with fur trim, cap, boots and belt - created in 1862 by Harper’s Weekly illustrator Thomas Nast. This outfit echoed Sinterklaas – or Santa Claus – a beloved figure brought to America by Dutch settlers.
By 1900, Santa went a bit bold, appearing in versions of this suit in green, blue, purple, red and more. The red suit would prove to have the most staying power in the 20th century. Appearing in popular magazines, advertisements, books and more throughout the teens and twenties, it would finally become solidly entrenched with the massive appeal of the Santa illustrations used in Coca-Cola ads, first introduced in the 1930s and popular for decades thereafter.
Santa’s outfit – more than meets the eye!