When fall comes around each year, it brings a bevy of season-specific clothing items with it. In particular, we can’t wait to get back into brushed men’s flannel shirts, men’s corduroy pants, and tweed jackets. But there’s one staple of the fall wardrobe that captures our attention the most: the classic men’s turtleneck sweater.
Forget the item’s associations with bongo-playing beatniks or stodgy college professors: the turtleneck is an easy, versatile, and cozy piece of clothing that deserves a spot in every man’s autumnal lineup. These are just a few of the reasons we consider the men’s turtleneck to be a fall staple.
Most items of clothing used in a layered look require extra forethought and planning. For instance, if you’ve chosen to wear a crewneck or men’s v-neck sweater, you’ll have to consider what’s being worn underneath. Because the layer underneath your sweater will be visible, your decision to start with a t-shirt or a men’s dress shirt as a base layer will greatly influence the appearance and formality of the final look.
But if you’ve decided to wear a turtleneck, no extra planning is needed. Because of its neck, the turtleneck sweater provides enough coverage to make its base layer undetectable. This means that you can simply throw on a white cotton t-shirt and wear it below a turtleneck whether you’ve decided to pair it with jeans and work boots or trousers and a blue blazer.
The ability of a turtleneck to completely conceal its base layer also means that you can more easily wear a thermal waffle knit henley or a long underwear top below without it affecting your outward appearance in the least. When you need to dress for warmth and comfort first, the turtleneck can be your greatest ally.
While some may consider the turtleneck to be “fancy” today (a characterization we’d dispute), it has humble origins as a garment first worn by Irish fishermen and then by sailors in WWII. You can embrace its workwear heritage by pairing it to simple, casual looks like a pair of worn-in jeans and your favorite leather boots.
But at the same time, its clean silhouette and ability to flatter the face and neck have given it a dress sensibility that was first embraced by the Hollywood stars of the 1930s, who wore their turtlenecks with double-breasted blazers. You can also choose to follow in the steps of old Hollywood royalty by matching yours with a pair of dress trousers and a blue blazer.
And then there’s the comfortable in-between: you can blend the two sides of the turtleneck together by matching it to jeans and a wool sport coat. In place of a tie, finish off the look with a plaid scarf.
Naturally, there are reasons above and beyond convenience and style to wear a turtleneck. Chief among those reasons is the fact that a turtleneck is one of the warmest pieces of clothing out there.
The secret to its success is in the neck. The neck is one of the most vulnerable parts of the body to cold, so it seems strange that it often winds up exposed to the elements even as the rest of the anatomy is covered. And when the neck goes cold, it can have a chilling effect that spreads all the way down to your toes.
Luckily, the turtleneck’s most iconic feature can act as a guard against the cold. By wrapping the neck in extra fabric, it ensures that it stays protected against chills and gusts. You can almost think of the body like a bottle of wine and the turtleneck as the cork on top, keeping the warmth bottled up.