It wasn't always this way. Over the years the man also known as Kris Kringle, Saint Nick and Father Christmas has had nearly as many wardrobe changes as aliases, turning up wearing long, green, fur-lined robes in one incarnation, a bright red-and-white outfit topped with a bishop's miter in another. But for at least the last half-century, Claus' clothes have been frozen in a kind of garish caricature of a costume: a bulky, red (presumably wool) suit with wide, woolly white cuffs; a thick, black patent leather belt and Mayflower-era belt buckle holding back a generous belly (you know, the one that shakes "like a bowl full of jelly"); sooty black boots on his feet and a red stocking cap upon his head.
It's understandable wardrobe inertia. After a hectic 364 days of the year filled with elf management, reindeer husbandry and staying on Mrs. Claus' nice list, the first time the Jolly One even thinks about that flight suit is probably an hour or two before it's boots off the ground, sleigh bells ringing. If there's an A-list celebrity out there more deserving of a style makeover, we can't think of one.
In the spirit of holiday giving, we asked some of our favorite tastemakers from 2011 — Hollywood stylists, fashion plates, boutique owners and bon vivants — to share how they might help Santa kick things up a notch in the wardrobe department.
Darren Gold, owner, Alpha: Gear for Gents: "Santa is so difficult, because you don't want to mess with the spirit of the original jolly guy. But there is definitely a way to modernize him while keeping him Santa. This year there is an obvious choice, because Dolce & Gabbana did some amazing red and burgundy velvet suits that are very Santa — their entire fall/winter collection actually screams Santa.
"I would butch it up with some real military boots or some bulky Rick Owens sneakers, a hat and fingerless gloves from the Elder Statesman — I wish I could do him in an entire Elder Statesman outfit, but that might push it a little too far — a handmade silk velvet bow tie from L.A.-based Boutaugh, a big canvas duffel from Copy Collection and top it all off with an over-sized scarf from Nice Collective to wear on the sleigh when the wind is blowing and he needs some extra warmth."
Rachel Zoe, celebrity stylist, fashion designer and reality TV star: "I think [a] red velvet suit, white shirt with cuff links, black ankle boots, white faux fur coat with black toggle closures and [a] slouchy beanie in white as well. Also, a large shoulder duffel for his toys."
Dayna Pink, costume designer, "Crazy, Stupid, Love": "Santa is more up to date than you may think. Though he is definitely overweight (I suggest a Blueprint Cleanse). I am all for keeping the full beard. We saw them on the runway for spring on models at Martin Margiela, Adam Kimmel and Billy Reid, and I'm not sure how long this trend will last, but for now I think Santa's facial hair is safe.
"As far as the suit, Lanvin did a great maroon velvet blazer this season that could replace the jacket. And a reusable/recyclable sack for the toys is probably a good idea. If we are talking about the Santa hat, it's pretty iconic, and since it never really was in style, it will never go out."
Christos Garkinos, co-owner Decades consignment boutique: "Let's mix up the red suit — tangerine is the new red for 2012. And '90s grunge is back in, so how about a new pair of Doc Martens? And I worry for Santa's health, [so] I'd get him a series of TRX classes at Gold's Gym to help improve his core and balance; lifting heavy packages on roofs demands it. Can you imagine if we got Tom Ford to make him a bespoke suit? [That would be a] sartorial Santa indeed. And while we're at it, wouldn't Mrs. Claus look good in an Oscar de la Renta dress?
"But Santa's beard is really in at the moment, so I wouldn't change that at all."
George Kotsiopolous, celebrity stylist and co-host of "Fashion Police" on E!: "Changing Santa's iconic look is akin to modifying Marilyn [Monroe's] infamous white halter dress, so I say: 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.'
"I would, however, suggest Mr. Claus invest in one of those Spanx for Men compression T-shirts for a more slimming look."
Simon Spurr, menswear designer: "The innovation of the iconic suit is in the new mind-set of the consumer. The current generation of modern men have come to understand that a way to distinguish yourself from the crowd is to wear a perfectly fitted suit. Even Santa wears a snug suit."
Cameron Silver, founder and co-owner Decades consignment boutique: "Santa Claus needs to eat less carbs and do some crunches so he fits into a slim silhouette suit for Christmas 2012. I like the idea of a fitted Simon Spurr jolly red suit with leather trim, and the pants tucked sloppily into a pair of All Saints boots.
"I have issues with the reindeer abuse, so perhaps a fuel-efficient Gucci Fiat or Prius might be an alternative mode of transportation. As for his carryall, Santa should schlep a Hermès Haut à Courroies or a Bottega Veneta Cabat.
"Finally, the silver fox hair [color] is working for me but the grizzly bear beard needs a serious trim, so rather than leaving Santa some cookies for when he comes down the chimney, I suggest a gift certificate to the Art of Shaving for some 'manscaping.'"
Martijn Linden, design director at Patagonia: "If the products Santa's currently using are working for him, we say he should certainly keep on rocking them. But if he's looking for alternatives with the latest technology, we've got a couple of things he might like.
"One of them is our new Super Pluma jacket — it's got a Gore-Tex Pro Shell — which would protect him from the elements with an adjustable hood and waterproof zippers. He could layer that over one of our Down Sweaters in a red delicious color — we call them sweaters because they're thin and lightweight and meant to be layered underneath a jacket like a sweater but they're actually made of 100% recycled polyester shells insulated with 800-fill-power European goose down. For a more casual look for Santa I'd recommend our Classic Retro-X Jacket in pomegranate. It's incredibly warm, fuzzy, all-recycled and windproof.
"And, if all his activity ends up wearing out any of the pieces over the years, Santa will be able to bring them back to us and they'll be recycled through our Common Threads program."
Keri Gutierrez, stylist, the Art of Shaving, Beverly Hills: "If he was sitting in my chair, I would use a pick to take his beard out to its fullness and then free-hand sculpt with a pair of shears until it was perfect. He'd definitely need to purchase a pair of clippers so he could groom and maintain it perfectly at home so it would look the same — it's important that he never change his look. The clippers should be the kind with various-size attachments so he can adjust it to go tight around the bottom of his beard and use it to make a nice clean outline on his cheeks."
Karla Welch, half of celebrity stylist duo Karla and Kemal (with Kemal Harris): "I could never improve Santa! Sometimes classics shouldn't be touched."
Warren Alfie Baker, celebrity stylist: "I think it would be amazing if Santa suited up and trimmed that beard a little and [I'd] give him a nice side part. I would get rid of that suitably comfy Santa suit for a nice red tartan suit from J. Lindberg, paired with a nice wool necktie from Gentry and a tie bar thrown in for full effect."
Glenn O'Brien, author of "How to Be a Man" and GQ's "Style Guy" columnist: "I kind of like the traditional outfit, although a tartan might be a nice variation [in] a red-based plaid. [Santa Claus] probably wears Woolrich — the really, really super-heavy wool trousers, jacket and vest that are made for hunters, which will be good so he won't be mistaken for a reindeer. He'd be wearing those American-made Red Wing boots that are really hip right now, and beards are back. Santa's more in style than ever now.
"I think the big update would be that he needs a stealth sleigh with everything painted black and radar-deflecting technology."
Jeremy Langmead, editor in chief, Mr. Porter: "Well, there's a recession on, there's a lot of concern over obesity issues and, as someone with a huge influence on children, it's probably time Santa shed a few pounds and smartened up his act. I quite like the red, white and black combo — he kind of owns it— and it makes sense to wear colors that will either show up in the dark or against the snow. But let's just get a little more with it.
"Starting with the footwear, as most men should, I'd recommend a pair of Jimmy Choo black-crocodile embossed Wellington boots. Chic and practical. Moving up, team them with a pair of APC 'pillarbox red' [the shade of British mailboxes] pants, slim but not too tight (and with a handy coin pocket so he has some change when looking to park his sleigh). Team the pants with a hooded Baja cream cashmere sweater by the Elder Statesman (a ho ho hoodie), and, to add a dash of modernity, he should team these with a Junya Watanabe Fair Isle wool and leather varsity jacket. The jacket is very festive, pretty practical and Justin Bieber wore one recently so it will give him street cred with the kids. Instead of his traditional, slightly dated headwear, opt instead for a ribbed, red cashmere beanie from J. Crew. Totally warm and less jingly jangly.
"Finally, dump the dumpy old sack — we know it doesn't really carry all those gifts — and opt instead for a Côte et Ciel laptop rucksack, as he will have all the wish lists filed on his laptop these days."
As one who has weathered 30 consecutive New England winters — and a man whose own silhouette becomes a bit more Santa-like with each passing Christmas — my version of "Santa Clothes 2.0" would be a functional, hard-wearing combination cobbled together from the above. The jolly fellow's feet would be shod in Red Wing boots, and he'd wear a Patagonia vest layered over a Simon Spurr suit in a shade just this side of raspberry (to wear if he had after-work plans, like a Christmas party to attend) or a dark red Woolrich tartan (his back-to-the-workshop wardrobe).
Santa's full, white beard would be pruned back just a bit, trimmed a few inches from its traditional length and meticulously shaped. Instead of the traditional cartoonish Santa sack, Kris Kringle would carry a Levi's Workwear by Billy Reid canvas apron bag slung over his shoulder, wear a pair of the Elder Statesman fingerless gloves on his hands and a jaunty (but not too long) scarf around his neck. I'd top that off with a vintage buffalo plaid hunter's cap — perhaps with an ironic white pompom lovingly sewn to the top by Mrs. Claus.
In the end, of course, it doesn't matter a whit what Santa's wearing when he comes down your chimney or meets you at the mall (though, in all honesty, something stain resistant couldn't hurt). The sound of his jingling bells and his hearty "ho, ho, ho" continue to put smiles on the faces and hope in the hearts of children across the globe every Christmas. And that's his strong suit.