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The Casual elegance of the Turtleneck

Turtleneck sweaters have enjoyed a resurgence in recent years. Look at the collections of any classic menswear designer over the past several seasons and you'll invariably see at least one turtleneck-clad model strolling down the runway. In addition to showing up on runways, turtlenecks have become popular among stylish men who appreciate the subtle refinement. Guys looking for an alternative to the classic shirt-and-tie combination are also wearing turtlenecks. Given the typical fabric choices--wool and cotton--and the high neck design, turtlenecks are worn mainly in the fall and winter seasons.

Turtlenecks (also called roll-necks by the British) have a interesting history. Like most men's fashion, the origins are utilitarian. Initially worn by fishermen, the turtleneck served the practical purpose of keeping one's neck protected from inclement weather. However, turtlenecks soon moved beyond fishermen into sports. Granted turtlenecks were worn while playing affluent sports like rowing, yachting and polo; turtlenecks still became a popular clothing item among this group. Turtlenecks also showed up in WWII as part of sailor's uniforms. Soon after turtlenecks were worn en masse by civilians, beatniks, bohemians and blue-collar workers. In G. Bruce Boyer's book, True Style: The History & Principle of Classic Menswear, he notes that, "Historically, styles have always trickled down from the affluent to those below. What appears to have happened in the case of the turtleneck is that styles gushed up from the street to the penthouse". In the case of the turtleneck, the affluent adopted the turtleneck as a sign of rebellion from the restrictive nature of tailored clothing and as a way to embrace an everyman sensibility.

There's a casual elegance to the turtleneck sweater that is polished and urbane. New York Times writer, Troy Patterson, notes "Designers have often praised the turtleneck for the way that it moves with the body...". To reinforce body movement, additional fabrics have been used to design turtlenecks such as silk and velour. A few years ago, you might recall seeing Drake dancing with abandon in a chunky blue turtleneck sweater in his music video for "Hotline Bling". The turtleneck punctuates his movements, although, with awkwardness.

Pulling off a turtleneck takes a few subtle style cues but when executed properly, the wearer commands attention. Dan Rookwood, US Editor for MR. PORTER advises, "A fine-gauge roll-neck works very well in colder weather with an overcoat, suit or tailored separates", says Rookwood of his own personal roll-neck preference. "It looks better worn under a jacket or a coat rather than on its own. The roll-neck should be nicely fitted without being tight, so that it sits comfortably under a jacket. Black roll-necks are considered slimming, as they help to elongate the neck and look good with charcoal tailoring. Chunky roll-necks are less flattering, especially for those who are not as tall or as slim as they would like to be."

When worn well, a turtleneck exudes elegance and makes the wearer appear more confident. It provides a solid alternative to the usual shirt-and-tie combination by adding visual interest and depth to your overall look. What do you think about turtlenecks? Are they modern and cool or dated and boring? Let me know.

Stay stylish friends...

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