The Black Turtleneck. The indelible fashion statement of simplicity with a quiet, yet bold elegance. The pullover of timeless style. The powerful allure that this high collared garment of style has maintained over time can be verified in iconic images of individuals of the past and present. Specifically, the turtleneck in black. A classic.
Known as the “Turtleneck” in the US & Canada, it is also referred to as a “Polo Neck” or “Roll Neck” in the United Kingdom and a “Skivvy” in Australia. The name “Turtleneck” refers to the high collar that “envelopes the neck”. The “Turtleneck” with its long collar that can be elongated or drawn back, emulates the “turtle’s neck” and thus it obtained its name. The collar is typically close fitting and long enough to be folded down over itself creating a double layer of warmth and style on those it bedecks. The history of “high collared” garments is said to date back to the 15th century. In terms of this specific classic layer of elongated collar style, however, there is no validated theory of its appearance in fashion. Some sources say that the turtleneck was created in England in 1890 to keep bicyclists warm. In addition, vintage photos of hockey players bearing the warmth of the turtleneck sweater give rise to the importance of this garment in terms of providing warmth. Commonly worn by workers and athletes, it is believed that the greatest earlier use of turtlenecks can be credited to the sailors. In fact, during World War II, the turtleneck sweater became part of the official uniform of the United States Navy. Warmth, indeed.
Ah, yes, the stylish appeal of the turtleneck in cooler weather. Eliminating the need for the addition of a scarf is an asset when one lives in a cooler climate. Indeed, the less accessories for warmth one must carry, the better! Certainly a convenience factor. Yet it is the iconic status of style the turtleneck, particularly the black turtleneck, that my attention falls upon…
The turtleneck is said to bring an air of mystery. Interesting. Thought to have been reclaimed as a rebellion against a tie, it is no wonder that since the middle of the 20th century, black turtlenecks or polo necks have been associated with artists, intellectuals, and philosophers. In fact, the ‘formal’ turtleneck has acted as substitutes of the accepted and dominant “Shirt & Tie”. Not without controversy, however. During the 1920’s, English playright, composer and designer, Noel Coward, brought further popularity to this high collared sweater when he began to wear them. Indeed, the universal nature of the turtleneck created a unisex appeal to its form fitting shape. Of interest, the era of the feminist movement found women adorning themselves in turtlenecks as a statement referring to ‘equality’. This aspect of the turtleneck’s use is said to have begun its journey through fashion as a unisex garment. The popularity of this garment is thought to have reached its height for both men and women during the 1950’s and 1960’s. In the 1950’s, the black turtleneck is said to have became a distinctive trademark of Existentialists, such as French actress and singer, Juliette Greco. (Existentialism is “the philosophical and cultural movement which holds that the starting point of philosophical thinking must be the experiences of the individual, and that moral and scientific thinking together do not suffice to understand human existence, so a further set of categories, governed by “authenticity”, is necessary to understand human existence.”) Of further interest, ” “Authenticity” in the context of Existentialism, is being true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character”. Interesting that the Turtleneck would come to embody the very word of “Authenticity”. Quite an “icon”, this sweater of black. John Berendt once wrote in Esquire magazine: “The Turtleneck was the boldest of all the affronts to the status quo. It was the picture of masculine poise and arrogance, redolent of athletes, sportsmen, even U-boat commanders. The simplicity of its design made neckties seem fussy and superfluous by comparison”. Quite an analogy. “Polo Necks” were a distinctive fashion for young, wealthy men emulating European film stars from the 1950’s such as Marcello Mastroianni and Yves Montand. Perhaps this homage to the black turtleneck could be considered incomplete without acknowledgement of the late cultural icon CEO and Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs and his great legacy bestowed to the world of technology. A statement of the future, the man clad in a “Mock” black turtleneck had much to bestow on the awaiting world. Although the “Mock” polo neck, or turtleneck is a variant of the classic turtleneck, which covers only part of the neck, it is still important to mention. Job’s noted intent of having a uniform for himself is said to have come from his rationale of convenience that would also carry with it a “signature style”. Signature, it was. Who knew that it was the designer Issey Miyake who would create a “hundred of them” for Jobs? Stacked in his closet, Jobs would once state “That’s what I wear. I have enough to last the rest of my life”. Iconic, indeed.
Perhaps the great designer, Halston, had quoted the significance of this iconic garment succinctly:
“Turtlenecks are the most comfortable garment you can wear. They move with the body, and they’re flattering, too, because they accentuate the face and elongate the figure. They make life so easy: you can wear a turtleneck to work and then afterwards throw on a jacket, and it becomes very dressy. You can go anywhere you like.” -Designer, Halston
As far as women’s fashion? One cannot stray far without reflecting on a few of the style icons from the past adorned in the layering piece of timeless style…
Toward the end of the 20th century until current, the allure and appeal of the turtleneck has not lessened in its height of popular fashion. Nor has the appeal of the turtleneck in the color black. Indeed, it has become a pillar. A basic staple of one’s wardrobe. A no-fail flattering layering piece that is the perfect addition of ease and style.
Consider the iconic black turtleneck. Choose this enduring basic in a high quality fabric that stretches to fit the body without losing its shape. Choose fabrics such as cashmere, merino wool or even natural cotton and you will have a closet essential that you will wear with every cool season in years to come. An investment in quality that will surpass years of stylish wear. A timeless and elegant layer of warmth. Certainly a devotion will ensue for this cool-weather staple for all of us, if it has not already. If you are already smitten, then this homage verifies your devotion. That said, if you only possess one turtleneck among the ranks of your wardrobe attire, make it as black as night. An iconic black turtleneck, indeed.