Either way, it’s back in style, and here at The Suite, we’re not mad about it. In fact, back in the late 90s/early noughties, we had our fair share of black, fine-knit turtlenecks (is six a lot?) to call on any time we wanted to channel Audrey Hepburn. Although, truth be told, we probably looked more like Steve Jobs with boobs.
There’s something stylishly strategic about a turtleneck. Not only does it protect the wearer against the cold in winter, but what it does better than any item of clothing is it accentuates the face, making everything else disappear. There’s no hint of décolletage, collarbone or bare shoulder to distract – just eyes, cheekbones and lips. It’s sophisticated and sexy, in an understated way.
Not that its origins were in any way alluring. Medieval knights wore them layered underneath chainmail armour to prevent chafing, and then in the 19th century turtlenecks were worn by fisherman, manual labourers and English polo players (hence the name in the UK). Now, they’re a wardrobe staple. Worn with a pair of tailored trousers or jeans and you’ve got an outfit fit for a movie star, a feminist icon… or a con artist.
Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield all wore turtlenecks, often in black, to either frame their light-sculpted faces and/or show off their showstopping curves. Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes wore them in an iconic photo of the feminist movement, posing with their fists raised in solidarity, in 1971. And Elizabeth Holmes, when she was CEO of Theranos, wore the turtleneck as a uniform, estimating in an interview she owned “probably” 150 identical black ones (we knew our six wasn’t a lot).
Perhaps the magic of the turtleneck can be best summed up by Audrey Hepburn, who wore hers with beatnik chic in her role as amateur philosopher (and groovy dancer) Jo Stockton for 1957’s Funny Face; “The pullover with a high collared neck still has a powerful allure that communicates ‘I’m different’.”
Despite being around for over five centuries, the turtleneck is a modern marvel – easier than a shirt, more pulled-together than a T-shirt – and it’ll say way more about you and your style than your average jumper.
Speaking of knitwear, here’s Why We’re Obsessed With The Cardigan Right Now.