Men’s turtlenecks have this odd quality.
The majority of men’s clothes that originated in the working class, the military, or sports and later became popular among rebels in the middle of the 20th century still have a certain air of toughness and edge about them today, even though they may be more than a century removed from where they first appeared and have now become completely mainstream.
As evidence, consider how jeans, leather jackets, and t-shirts, which were initially worn by miners, aviators, and soldiers before becoming popular in the 1950s among rebels without a cause, still have a modicum of coolness about them today.
However, the turtleneck, which also has a macho background, rarely does.
Beginning in the latter half of the 19th century, working-class men began to wear turtlenecks as we know them today. They were particularly well-liked by dockworkers, fishermen, and sailors because of the garment’s distinctive high-reaching, folded-over collar, which provided an important practical role by protecting the wearer’s neck from chilly winds and keeping him warm while working.
Athletes of the period wore turtlenecks for the same reason whether they played baseball, football, polo, or hockey.
The most countercultural of factors led to the garment’s actual resurgence in popularity in the 1950s. They were embraced as a fashionable substitute for a dress shirt and tie and were thereafter worn by those who were most likely to dislike anything that was physically or figuratively buttoned up, such as artists, musicians, poets, philosophers, and intellectuals. Beatniks.
In the 1960s, the Black Panthers chose the turtleneck as their official uniform, and a number of renowned movie detectives—from Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt to Richard Roundtree’s John Shaft—made the turtle neck their signature piece of clothing.
Despite this rebellious past, the turtleneck is still frequently regarded as being a bit dweeby—twee, stuffy, and effete. How come?
One can only speculate as to the precise cultural currents that propelled the turtleneck from being tough to hip to nerdy, but it is probably related to its popularity among beatniks and on college campuses.
Intellectuals who were once rebellious have evolved into geriatric professorial yuppies. While the culture as a whole moved toward what was once regarded as rebellious (eschewing dress shirts and ties isn’t so edgy anymore), their personal lifestyles got closer to the mainstream. As a result, while academics lost some of their cool caches, turtlenecks maintained a certain scholarly reputation appropriate for their connections to academia.
A hypothesis at least.
In any case, throughout the past 50 years, the popularity and connotations of the male turtleneck have waxed and waned until they have now attained a status that resembles neutrality.
Following are some tips on how to choose a turtleneck and wear it stylishly in an effort to further tip the dial of the turtleneck into neutral territory and make an underutilized aspect of more guys’ wardrobes something they can go for without hesitation.
Picking a Turtleneck
The turtleneck is a stylish, useful, and adaptable piece of clothing. Wearing one can dress down a suit or dress up a pair of jeans. Turtlenecks are more comfortable than dress shirts and still make you seem put together because they are soft and stretchy. They have a style that isn’t buttoned-up, yet they can read as a touch formal. As a result, they’re a stylish choice for a man who wishes to appear sophisticated but not stuffy.
Types of Turtlenecks
Turtleneck types can roughly be broken down into two main categories:
- Thinner/fitted: Thinner turtlenecks can be placed beneath sport and suit jackets and provide a little more formal appearance. generally more fashionable.
- Chunky/looser: The bulky turtleneck is a standalone item because it is typically too thick to be worn beneath jackets. They have a more laid-back appearance and go well with jeans.
Broken down by body type: If/how you should wear the two above types of turtlenecks depends on your body type:
- If you have a fit-to-average build, layer under a jacket or wear a thin, fitting turtleneck alone. Wearing a larger turtleneck alone will also look good.
- Avoid wearing thin/fitted turtlenecks by themselves if you are overweight since the clingy material will draw attention to all of the flaws in your torso and paunch. Fitted turtlenecks are still OK, but cover them with a jacket. Additionally, you should avoid wearing a bulky turtleneck by itself because, while it won’t be as forgiving as a thin/fitted one, it will still draw attention to your fat and make you look sluggish. Keep in mind that wearing turtlenecks may not be the best choice if you have a lot of facial weight, as the collar draws attention upwards and will frame and highlight a double chin.
- If you’re thin, layering with a jacket will help to elongate your frame because wearing a thin, fitting turtleneck alone will make you look thinner. You will benefit from a chunky turtleneck’s texture and thickness because it will make you look heftier.
Wearing & Cleaning: It is not advised to wear an undershirt underneath thinner, narrower turtlenecks since the outline of the undershirt will show through due to their fitting shape. Look for turtlenecks that can be machine washed because you’ll be wearing them near to your body and they will absorb body filth and sweat, requiring more frequent laundering. A merino wool one will be cozy, comfy, and largely maintenance-free. Of course, hand washing more carefully crafted turtlenecks is an option, but it’s a pain.
Check to see if your skin or nipples show through a white thin/fitted turtleneck if you’re not wearing an undershirt; if they do, wear a jacket on top of it.
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