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Do You Know Your Style Stuff? Turtlenecks Are Officially Back

These were men who dressed like men yet managed to stand out from the crowd with little more than a tailored turtleneck under a blazer or bomber.


The tried-and-true turtleneck isn’t just for beatniks and the Silicon Valley set anymore. A return to mid-century sartorialism — along with a resounding rejection of the same old suit-and-tie getup — has resurrected the retro classic. But don’t go dusting off dad’s sweater from the '70s just yet (you know, the one that comes complete with a gold chain). You need a healthy dose of haberdasher history, along with some shout-outs to the turtleneck’s tastemakers, to ensure you do this trend justice. 

Once upon a time, in 15th-century Europe, high-collared garments made their first recorded appearance in human history. Fast forward four centuries, and the turtleneck that we would find familiar found its way onto the backs of English polo players. Other athletes, including cyclists and hockey players as well as sailors, adopted the style around the same time as a way to stay warm. Needless to say, the bend back in those days was decidedly utilitarian.

It wasn't until the 1920s when English playwright Noel Coward — who ironically claims to have worn turtlenecked jerseys for comfort — started wearing them that a fashion trend took hold among middle-class Londoners. Nearly 30 years later, across the pond in America, the turtleneck reached its peak in popularity at opposite ends of the societal spectrum: beatniks bought black ones as part of their counterculture commentary; so-called sweater girls showed off their exaggerated bust lines in them; and the preps found them favorable for their neat and tidy appearance. Throughout the following two decades, the turtleneck further evolved as an anti-tie alternative for men and an androgynous, unisex option for women.

Although turtlenecks took a nap over the last few years, they're back in mid-century mode, à la Michael Caine, Marcello Mastroianni, Paul Newman, Robert Redford and Steve McQueen. These were men who dressed like men yet managed to stand out from the crowd with little more than a tailored turtleneck under a blazer or bomber. If you're thinking this group of guys is too old to inspire a wardrobe refreshment, consider that Zayn Malik got the memo at the ripe age of 20.

Here's how you can get yours

 Zara Turtleneck

Jonesing for some Jack Kerouac and a double espresso? This cotton turtleneck in three dark shades of introspection can be worn as a layering piece, but it would probably prefer to be left alone. Whatever path you choose, make sure to go equally dark on your jeans. True to form, black would likely be best.


Calvin Klein Merino Wool Turtleneck
 Although ribbing lends a luxe texture to an otherwise simple, solid knit, it can also be pretty unforgiving if you've been skipping the gym. Ensure everything is locked and loaded under a basic two-button blazer, or keep on shopping.

Banana Republic Heritage Cable-Knit Turtleneck 

If your palate is more prepster than protester, opt for a cable knit in cream. It's ideal when worn with a well-tailored, waist-length peacoat, but can make quite a statement solo, too.

Peter Werth Melange Turtleneck

The mock turtleneck tee takes on a new life when it's rendered in fine cotton with a ribbed hem and cuffs. Sure, it could be worn all on its own. But this mock is one of the few we've seen that's actually suitable for a sport coat.

 UNIQLO Soft-Touch Turtleneck 

The supple, soft wash of this turtleneck tee is the ultimate alternative to the V-neck you're used to wearing in warmer climes.

Pendleton Timberline Mock Turtleneck 

If you're the hot-blooded type, look for less coverage with the mock. It's about half as high as its full-fledged relative and doesn't double over. That way, you won't fear sweating bullets when it's below zero.

Polo Ralph Lauren Merino Wool Turtleneck 

Think of the merino wool turtleneck as the dressier version of its cotton cousin. It hearkens back to the icons of old, especially when paired with a sport coat and cords.

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Lifestyle Magazine: Do You Know Your Style Stuff? Turtlenecks Are Officially Back
Do You Know Your Style Stuff? Turtlenecks Are Officially Back
Lifestyle Magazine
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