Looking sharp and staying warm are two objectives that are often mutually exclusive. A fitted blouse and a pencil skirt aren’t going to give you the same level of comfortable warmth you’d receive from a flannel pajamas set, and flannel pajamas aren’t exactly what you want to give your next presentation in.
However, there is one article of clothing that sits squarely at the intersection of professional appeal and day-off coziness, and that’s the classic turtleneck. Add one to your rotation, and you’ll find yourself looking sharp and staying warm throughout the fall season.
What makes a turtleneck so different from other fall layering essentials is the silhouette. Other women’s sweaters that end below the neck, like crewneck sweaters and v-neck sweaters, have a fundamentally more casual appearance. But because the turtleneck advances to just below the chin, it creates a striking silhouette that frames the face and appears more formal without being a formal piece of clothing itself. It’s this unique framing device that makes the turtleneck such a valuable tool for creating a sharp look without going to the trouble of wearing formal dress.
Another aspect that helps explain the turtleneck’s elevated status is its appearances in literature, history, and cinema. Although it was originally a piece of clothing designed for sailors and working men, it was adopted by young, urban intellectuals at the middle of the 20th century, which in turn made it a favorite of beat writers and jazz musicians. But for all the appeal those mid-century bohemians gave to the garment, it was nothing compared to the chic factor bestowed to the turtleneck once Audrey Hepburn began wearing it as a personal uniform, on-screen and off.
Of course, all this talk of its aesthetic appeal and history is just one part of the equation. We wouldn’t be talking about the turtleneck in this context if it weren’t warm, which it most certainly is.
Foremost among the factors that give the turtleneck its unique insulating powers is the same aspect that makes it such a visually striking piece of clothing: that rolled neck (or mockneck). It’s not difficult to explain how this makes a difference: by covering the neck, which is among the most sensitive parts of the body to cold, the turtleneck provides extra warmth where it’s needed the most (particularly if you choose to go without a scarf).
Then there is the diverse variety of fabrics that you can expect a turtleneck to be knitted from. There are soft supima cotton turtlenecks that you can count on wearing during the first days of autumn, the wool turtlenecks you can bundle up with as it gets cooler, and the cashmere and chunky cable knit varieties you’ll want to keep close as winter advances.
And lastly there are the almost unlimited ways that you can wear a turtleneck in professional contexts. The beauty of a turtleneck is that it is one of the few items of clothing that pairs with jeans just as well as it does with a pencil skirt and a pair of pumps.
However, all this talk of the turtleneck’s inherent versatility will be for naught unless you know where to start. If you’re just now beginning the process of searching for a turtleneck you can wear professionally, we’d recommend that you start by selecting a turtleneck in a solid color that is knit from a mid-weight wool. The solid color will allow it to be more easily paired with professional clothing, while mid-weight wool will provide warmth without causing you to feel too warm in an overheated office.