The Ultimate Workplace Apparel: Evolution of the Santa Suit

From delivery drivers to retail clerks to restaurant wait staff, the season blossoms with a host of employees in polos, jackets and other uniforms. Another common, even timeless uniform is the Santa suit.

But where did old Saint Nick get that get up?

The answer depends on which region of the world you live. Early drawings in much of the world show Santa in clothes of tan or green. But that’s where the similarities end.

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Europeans know Saint Nicholas’ wardrobe as more religiously themed. Tracing his roots back to the Greek bishop Myra and the Dutch Sinterklaas and even the Germanic god Odin, his saintly attire includes a long robe and a Bishop’s mitre or ceremonial hat.

His American apparel is distinctly different. Still wearing earth tones in the early 19th century, one of the earliest drawings of Saint Nick featured a slender, bearded man in a coat with stars and a night cap. This 1863 cover of Harper’s Weekly magazine was by famed illustrator Thomas Nast, who also created or popularized such images as Boss Tweed’s Tammany Hall tiger, the Republican Party elephant, the Democrat Party donkey, and even Uncle Sam.

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Over the next few decades, Father Christmas in the US underwent a wardrobe change. The evolving Santa suit featured the fur-lined red coat and matching, cuffed trousers and night cap, a large belt and buckle, and black boots. Santa became more portly in Nast’s 1881 illustration, “A Merry Old Santa Claus,” that accompanied the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” better known as “Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

In time, Santa wore grandfatherly spectacles.

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Marketers soon tapped the plump and popular Kriss Kringle in their advertising. The Coca-Cola Company launched its first Santa Clause ad in The Saturday Evening Post in the 1920s. Illustrator Haddon Sundblom created the jolly man in the red suit and white beard for the bottler’s ads in 1931.

Except for a few alterations, his appearance since then has remained mostly unchanged, making Saint Nick’s wardrobe the most timeless workplace apparel of all.

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