Why The Turtleneck Is Your Perfect Autumn Essential

The arrival of September marks the start of fashion month and it is undoubtedly the most important month of the industry’s calendar. With runway shows a-plenty showcasing the latest designs for Spring-Summer 2020, it is hard to believe that anything could make this month more exciting. But as Autumn descends upon us, so does the seasonal wardrobe SWITCH-OVER.

Though it is possibly a tad too early for the chunky knits and heavy-duty thermals, there is a menagerie of warm alternatives that can be freed from their vacuum sealed bags, including the turtleneck.

Often labelled the roll neck or polo neck, the classic turtleneck has been keeping fashion lovers warm whilst elegantly elongating necks for centuries.  

Dating back to medieval times, knights often wore them to protect their necks from being cut by their chain-mail, but it wasn’t until the mid-sixteenth century where it was made fashionable by members of the aristocracy. Queen Elizabeth I and other members of court adorned their necks with extravagant ruffles (‘ruffs’) to separate themselves from the lower classes.

But by the late 1800s, the turtleneck had transformed into a more functional garment for working class Victorians. Many labourers sought after them for their warmth and practicality. It was also incorporated into the uniform for many polo players where it procured its name: the polo neck.

Though sport isn’t often the main inspiration for fashion connoisseurs, the illustrations of the ‘Gibson Girl’ by Charles Dana Gibson were. Considered the feminine ideal of the time, she soon had every woman of the 1900s high society wearing a turtleneck.

It wasn’t until the mid-twentieth century that the turtleneck infiltrated mainstream daywear. The playwright Noël Coward and actress Jayne Mansfield are often acclaimed for transforming the drab and conservative turtleneck into something more fashion forward. Coward brought colourful vibrance to the previously monochrome turtleneck whilst ‘blonde bombshell’ Mansfield inspired a cropped and feminine silhouette.

Probably the most notable ‘black turtleneck moment’ was thanks to Audrey Hepburn when she performed a Bohemian dance in the 1957 film Funny Face. Sometimes the simplest of outfits have the most effect and that certainly rings true for Hepburn’s beatnik look (black turtleneck, jeans and loafers). The film captured this emerging style effortlessly and the black turtleneck soon became an essential that every fashionable woman wanted.  

Turtlenecks were undoubtedly a success throughout the sixties and their reign continued into the seventies. This time, it became a symbol of individuality and distinction. It became a uniform for the Black Panthers, and an exclamation of androgyny for second-wave feminists.

Though marking a sign of power in the seventies, they were overshadowed in the eighties by shoulder pads and big hair. The absence however, made them all the more stylish when they returned as the next decade came around. Paired with simple blue jeans and worn by the likes of the Friends cast and the tech powerhouse Steve Jobs, they were part of the laid-back vibe of the nineties.

Scarcely seen once again throughout the early 2000s, they have recently started to make their overdue comeback. The past few seasons have seen a rise in models sashaying down the runway with their necks elegantly wrapped in cashmere and nylon.   

Once seen as just a basic style essential, trends like ‘ugly fashion’ – dad trainers and Balenciaga Crocs – have definitely caused a stir when it comes to styling turtlenecks. Designers have progressively been drawn to daring aesthetics like neon and animal to amp up the impact of a high-necked top.

The removal of the roll in the classic turtleneck – also known simply as a high neck – has become a favourite of fast fashion brands. They are no longer just exclusively shown as knitwear, but have also become a staple for many a party girl, coming in sheers, metallics and bizarre prints.

Although a neon high neck and vinyl trousers is a perfect pairing for a night out on the town, as we move into the cooler months, the colour palettes considered desirable are also transforming.

Turtlenecks in Autumnal colours such as browns, camels and even black are returning to daywear in full force. Layered under oversized button-ups and blazers, the turtleneck exudes versatility and is definitely something to stock up on.

Centuries into its existent, the turtleneck still remains as fashionable as it did when worn by Queen Elizabeth I through to our fashion muse Audrey Hepburn. Whether in elegant black or tight-fitting nylon, a wardrobe is never fully complete without this Autumn essential.  

FashionTom LeggComment