Turtleneck sweaters, also known as polo neck, mock neck, skivvy, and so forth. Learn all about its history, how they should fit, how you can style them, and what to pay attention to when you buy them.
What Is A Turtleneck?
Basically, it’s a sweater with a high rolled collar that is turned down and covers some parts or most parts of your neck. A traditional polo neck or turtleneck is always folded over and it’s very slim fitting in the body. Typically, the turtleneck part itself is made out of a ribbed knit while the body is generally made up of a solid knit.
A cousin of the turtleneck is the so-called mock neck. It also covers the neck yet it’s not folded over. Personally, I don’t like that style very much because it usually is more flimsy around your neck and it doesn’t drape as well as when it’s folded over.
They first have been worn in the Western Hemisphere in the 15th century. If you wonder why, you know once you put them on that they really keep your neck a lot warmer which is nice for the colder days of the year. Because of that, it never really lost its popularity but by the 19th century, it was primarily a garment for the working class or for sailors. Sometimes, you could also see them worn by naval officers.
That being said, it was not a garment that you would see an aristocratic gentleman wearing. In fact, it was a utilitarian garment and it didn’t become fashionable until the playwright Noel Coward wore it in the 1920s. It’s so popular that it was subsequently adopted by the preppy style movement because people wanted something that was more casual and they wore it instead of a shirt and a tie especially during the cooler days of the year. Ever since, turtlenecks have been going in and out of fashion. They were really popular in the 80s and then the demand dropped.
I remember I had my first turtleneck sweater about 15 years ago in the early 2000s and at that point, they weren’t really popular. That being said, in recent years, there has been a surge in popularity especially with elegant men because it’s a garment that helps you casualize the rest of your somewhat formal wardrobe. Obviously, it keeps your neck warm and it also means you don’t need to have a necktie or a bow tie which makes it an ideal winter travel companion.
How A Turtleneck Sweater Should Fit
The turtleneck is a rather slim fitting garment that is snug and reaches below your waist. Most turtlenecks are quite long so you can tuck them in without them coming out. In the 80s, sweater turtlenecks were very floppy but personally, I think it’s not a good style because you have it sit very close against your neck so it’s floppy in the body, it just looks weird.
That being said, turtlenecks usually come in different weight classes, there are some that are extremely thin and it’s a great substitute for a shirt. On the other hand, you have thicker sweaters typically made out of wool which are meant to keep you a lot warmer and you might be able to wear them with an undershirt.
Slim and very thin turtlenecks can be great to layer but wearing them on their own, they really show every imperfection of your body. Frankly, whether you wear your turtleneck tucked or untucked is entirely up to you. Personally, I like to wear it tucked with dress pants or if I combine it with a suit, I wear them on top of my pants if it’s a more casual combination.
How To Style A Turtleneck Sweater
- Personally, I like to wear them directly against my skin or with a thin undershirt. I never wear a polo shirt underneath with any kind of collar and I also try to avoid any kind of dress shirt with a collar because it just looks weird and you can see it outlined from the outside. Sometimes, even an undershirt is too much and I just suggest you take a look at it in the mirror before you go out on the street because if you have an outline of a v-neck t-shirt underneath a turtleneck, it just looks odd.
- Turtlenecks are a great way to dress down suits. In the video above, I’m wearing a gray turtleneck with a navy suit. It creates a very different look than when I would wear the same suit with let’s say a white shirt and a tie.
- A turtleneck makes everything look a lot softer yet you’re still well-dressed. Some people even combine it with striped suits which, in my opinion, is over the top because the striped suit is more formal and it can clash.
- To go even a step further, I’ve seen people wearing it with a tuxedo or dinner jackets and I find that look is rather odd because black tie lives of its formality but it looks much better like that, in my opinion.
- You can also use a turtleneck to dress down a double-breasted jacket.
- At recent Pitti Uomos, I’ve also seen men wear a turtleneck sweater that’s rather thin with a larger denim shirt on top which is topped off by an overcoat or a jacket. Obviously, that’s a more flamboyant fashion-forward look and are only recommended to people who really know what they’re doing. Personally, it’s not a look that I like.
- Off-white is a really nice color for turtleneck sweaters especially in the winter because it contrasts with the darker colors that are otherwise usually incorporated in your outfit. That being said, make sure you get a very thick white or off-white turtleneck because otherwise, you can see your nipples, the hair pokes through, and you can see the outline of your pants which just looks really really bad.
- Turtlenecks generally tend to look better with shorter haircuts. So if you like your longer hairstyle, simply don’t wear turtlenecks.
- If you’re
in toturtlenecks, you can also pair them maybe with some jeans and boots and wear them outside let’s say with a pea coat.
One of the biggest challenges for turtlenecks is to combine them with your other garments so it looks very well put together. I found, in terms of color, if you follow the concept of contrast and harmony, you always look well-dressed.
Contrast & Harmony
By harmony, I mean that you take a color that complements maybe your jacket or one of your pants. Because turtlenecks are exclusively reserved for the colder seasons of the year, it makes sense to use a more muted color scheme that creates that harmony with other items.
By contrast, I mean the colors have to be noticeably different because if everything blends in yet it’s not the same, it has this sort of monochromatic look that simply does not work.
How To Buy Turtlenecks?
Ideally, you get something that is machine washable because sometimes, you’ll sweat more if you go from a cold environment into a warm department store than you would with a different sweater. Because of that, you want to be able to clean it regularly and dry cleaners are very costly so ideally, you want to be able to wash it at home in your washing machine. That means you get something in cotton. Cotton is not very insulating so merino wool is probably the best material for a sweater because it is not as delicate as cashmere yet you can wash it on a gentle cycle in your machine at home. Because I sweat more in them, I have to wash turtlenecks more often and therefore, I get pilling more quickly and the sweaters don’t last as long.
In terms of colors, I think gray and tan are fantastic companions for the winter season and those would be the first to invest my money in because generally, they work
well with other classic colors that are usually worn in the winter. If you want to add more, I think an ivory color is great as long as the material is thick enough so you don’t see any outline underneath. You could also play with maybe a burgundy or a dark olive green. Tones of camel and khaki are also nice but I would stay clear of black or navy because they’re usually too similar to the jackets and then it just all blends in and creates a monochromatic look I don’t like.
Rather than going with a stark white, I encourage you to go with ivory or off-white because they’re softer and blends in better with brown tones still creating a contrast but in a way that is more warmer and looks more well-put-together than a plain solid white.
If you’re not sure about turtlenecks and whether they’re right for you, a great place to start is Uniqlo. They provide turtlenecks with a nice slim fit even for shorter guys or for guys like me. They have a nice color palette, they offer merino wool and cotton and they really don’t break the bank. No, this is not sponsored at all. I’ve just found that Uniqlo turtlenecks are a great value so give it a try and let me know what you think.