History of the Faux Tree

Posted November 6, 2007 2:36 p.m. EST
Updated November 13, 2007 1:59 a.m. EST

Love them or not, today's artificial Christmas trees don't have the uniform - and unrealistic - appearance of their forbears a generation ago.

High-end trees now do their best to mimic the inconsistencies of a natural tree, with uneven branch sizes, individually shaped needles and variation in color.

And the biggest change in faux trees over the last few decades is the move away from the jigsaw-puzzle tree of many little pieces toward a typically three-part tree that opens like an umbrella, says Janet Denton, Christmas buyer for Sears.

Pre-lit trees also have caught on, she says.

An artificial Christmas tree first appeared in Sears' 1910 catalog. It had a wooden base, five candle attachments, 25 branches and was decorated with red berries.

The price? 23 cents.

By 1915, some of the trees, mounted in large white pots with thick branches covered with heavy imitation foliage, could cost up to 98 cents, according to Sears' records. In the 1945 Christmas catalog, the retailer was touting trees with branches covered with a dark green straw-like yarn that was supposed to imitate pine needles.

Glamorous nylon net trees were advertised in the 1950s, and '60s artificial trees were a mix of aluminum, plastic and vinyl. All sides of the tree had a uniform shape in 1968.

By 1972, however, color variation between light and dark green and even some blue became popular for a more natural look, although some came tinged with "snow."

If you are drawn to an artificial tree, either for practical or environmental reasons, Sara Ruffin Costello, creative director of the style magazine Domino, says there are two options to pulling it off: One is to choose a tasteful, simple artificial tree. The other is to embrace kitsch.

"I wouldn't go for green," Costello says. "I'd go for white or silver. ... A white tree with black balls, or silver tree with glass and silver ornaments and metallic garlands. I'd try to keep it just this side of not being tacky. If you have a real sense of humor, you can go all out and get away with it."