The Turtleneck Comes Back Out of Its Shell.


If imitation is the highest form of flattery, than we’re a pretty flattering bunch. Even in 2014, decades after their respective primes (and in many cases, decades after their deaths) it’s still the icons – the McQueens, the Redford’s, the Newman’s, the Caine’s, et al. that we look to for our sartorial cues. It’s these erstwhile icons that we return to time and time again when we’re citing everything from sneakers to suits to smirking glances. The cause and effect(s) of our rear-view vision are a topic for another time (don’t want to exhaust our bandwidth for this month too soon) but what’s most curious about this backwards perspective is the way in which certain venerable trends rise while others sink like a remake of Alfie.

What is it about bucket hats, shawl collar sweaters, and three-roll-two jackets that made them so popular, while ascots, cowboy hats, and spectator shoes never really caught on again? Sure, there’s the simple fact that most successfully resurrected styles are easy to wear, while those that remain in the past would be considered a bit too ostentatious for contemporary wear. But, what about the turtleneck then?


Last winter, it seemed like the turtleneck, which isn’t exactly a subtle sweater, was suddenly and inexplicably popular again for the first time in years. I suppose it would be unfair to say inexplicably, as the turtlenecks of 2013 were not the turtlenecks we were used to over the past couple decades. No, these slimmer, sleeker knits were closer to the turtlenecks that McQueen and Caine wore back in the sixties rather than the chunky, borderline tacky, turtlenecks that infiltrated suburban style throughout the eighties and nineties. Thanks to our obsession with these black-and-white photos from fifty years ago when “all men dressed well” (or at least enough that we can comfortably fool ourselves into actually believing that platitude), the McQueen/Caine style of turtleneck, best worn under a sportcoat or paired with wool trousers, is now prevalent once again. And we’re all better for it.


Michael Caine

Comments on “The Turtleneck Comes Back Out of Its Shell.

    Dirk on January 15, 2015 1:27 PM:

    Every few years a turtleneck article surfaces with mention of Steve McQueen …

    Ralph Kinney Bennett on January 15, 2015 2:43 PM:

    Well, they’re classic, comfortable and warm. The sleeker, finer knit ones (when you can find them) are great under a plaid, say, Vyella shirt on a crisp day. Add a tweed sport coat if you need a little more warmth. Sufficient for a brisk walk, or on a colder day, passage from car to restaurant without a topcoat of any kind. It is a forgiving look in a way, much more forgiving than an ascot for most men. And like a good blue blazer, they allow you to dress up or down (more down than up, to my mind). Like all classic clothing, they are practical at heart.

    tomiskinky on January 16, 2015 8:14 AM:

    Never been out of my wardrobe, Smedley et al – sleek and stylish.

    Jeff on January 16, 2015 2:00 PM:

    The thick-necked version will come back when we move from the lumbersexual to sailorsexual.

    Jim on January 16, 2015 3:15 PM:

    Anything McQueen/Dean/Brando wore is now a classic.

    Alisab on January 16, 2015 11:55 PM:

    iv always loved my turtle necks. i find that every once in a while i still wear them to this day. there is something about them that i can never part with lol. but be my guest! the sooner they make it a comeback the more use my turtle-necks will get! im Excited! haha

    Mikkel on January 17, 2015 7:32 AM:

    Which brand should you look too for the best classic turtleneck?

    Matthew Pike on January 18, 2015 1:04 PM:

    You can’t move for tanned lads wearing thin ones over here at the moment.

    Robert Easthope on January 18, 2015 3:59 PM:

    I think the best turtle neck is Milne by John Smedley, but I think they have stopped making them. Navy blue and black are really difficult to get….such a shame, so please JS ….mo
    Ale them again

    Robert Easthope on January 18, 2015 4:03 PM:

    Sorry typo!
    Come on JS make them again!

    T. Conlon on January 23, 2015 2:31 AM:

    The fine gauge of a John Smedley can be unforgiving if your not super slim. I would also like to mention Jack in Five Easy Pieces, he wears a slightly heavier style, not a submariner, just right.

    B. A. Richardson on January 25, 2015 7:23 PM:

    I prefer turtlenecks with a sport coat because I’ve a unique problem. I broke a collarbone when I was a kid and because of that one of my shoulder is lower than the other. So, unless I wear a tie, open collars tend to sit unevenly on me, making me look slightly disheveled.

    Fortunately, I like turtlenecks.

    David Spalding on January 26, 2015 11:03 AM:

    Add me to the list of those who never pared theirs out of the wardrobe. Growing up in San Francisco (“coldest winter I ever spent was one summer in San Francisco”), I know instinctively that you don’t go out for very long without a windbreaker, sweater, or … wear a t-neck. They’re tricky to make really well, I’ve had more expendable versions than I care to count: light fabric (or just cheap), skimpy collar, crappy shoulder construction. This is basically an unconstructed garment, so it has to be made with care. Currently have a full turtleneck and mock turtle from Willis & Geiger (RIP), made with good shoulder and yoke design, underarm gussets even. Made from a substantial fabric (Pima cotton?), they drape nicely but don’t cling.

    So, aside from weather … why? It’s a casual, but restrained look. Lets the jacket stand out and capture attention, so if it’s a sport coat with leather patches, or a blazer, double-breasted even, the turtle neck can slip into the background.

    Invictus on January 28, 2015 7:48 PM:

    So long as they are available in black, or a slightly darker black…

Comments are closed.