Polo neck chic: four ways to wear your timeless turtleneck staple

Nicole Kidman, Sarah Snook as Shiv Roy and Marilyn Monroe in turtlenecks
Triple the turtlenecks: Nicole Kidman, Sarah Snook as Shiv Roy and Marilyn Monroe

Growing up I hated wearing my school uniform. Didn’t we all? I would mark mufti day in my calendar, planning for weeks where I would shop for an outfit that represented who I really was. One year, I bought a red and blue checked shirt because I read that they are the two colours that will make you stand out more. But it wasn’t until I left school that I realised how much I missed a uniformed wardrobe.

Fast forward to today and all you’ll find me wearing are turtlenecks and roll necks. I can’t ever remember buying my first, but, as with many people, it has always existed alongside the shirts and jumpers in my wardrobe. It holds an important place in popular culture, too: the turtleneck was worn by First Lady Jackie Kennedy in the Sixties, by off-duty supermodels in the Nineties, and by on-duty royals today - it's hard to imagine them ever going out of style.

Aristotle Onassis and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

I can’t leave the house without a turtleneck and I’ve taken it a step further by ‘double-necking’, in which you wear a turtleneck under a zip-up.

This season though, the turtleneck has transitioned from essential to hero piece, making appearances on the catwalk and being adopted by some of the year's most stylish TV characters. But there are many ways to wear the look, and it can be hard to know where to begin.

Here, I identify four key turtleneck styling tribes to try...

The Steve Jobs

The hardest and easiest way to wear a polo neck is the Steve Jobs way: solo. The late Apple founder would order black ones in bulk from Japanese designer Issey Miyake. The idea was that by wearing the same thing every day, he would have one less decision to make, allowing him to focus on his empire. As it would turn out, he was also one step ahead of the curve when it came to branding yourself, too.

The classic turtleneck worn by Steve Jobs and Audrey Hepburn on the set of Funny Face

When it comes to shopping for a turtleneck, follow Jobs’ lead and go about it the same way you would when buying an Apple product: by knowing where it has come from and what it will do. Swedish men’s brand Asket recently hit 100 percent traceability with its merino wool roll neck (£90, Asket) which has a density similar to a pair of 100 denier tights, so you don’t have to worry about any sheerness. If your aesthetic is more Audrey Hepburn than IT nerd, Wolford has a luxurious ribbed version (£315, Browns Fashion).

The layer piece

It was during the autumn/winter 2019 shows that we saw turtlenecks become a true fashion talking point. We saw them styled under dresses at Chloe and APC, while Fendi took it one step further, reintroducing the turtleneck bodysuit that’s worn by ballerinas.

The turtleneck on the catwalk: Fendi, APC and Chloe

It’s an inspired way to get wear out of lightweight summer dresses in the winter season. Uniqlo’s Heattech thermal bodysuit (£24.90, Uniqlo) is perfect under sheer and silk fabrics.  Don't just stick to tasteful neutrals - a polo neck layered under a dress or jumpsuit offers the perfect opportunity to experiment with prints or colours which you might usually dismiss. 

Soft cervical collar, but make it fashion

Whether you work in an office, staring at a computer all day, or you’re a full-time mum juggling life admin with the school run, you probably own a soft cervical collar (the fashion kind, not the NHS-issue kind) by now. Your sartorial inspiration should be the high priestesses of orthopedic chic, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen who are often seen wearing oversized turtlenecks (£1,880, Net-a-Porter) or designing them for their label, The Row.

Real life imitates catwalk: Mary-Kate Olsen and Ashley Olsen wearing turtlenecks and a runway version from their label, The Row

This type of turtleneck is an overachiever, which means it consumes space and attention much like a middle child would. But for all the office dos, 'Friendsmas' dinners and pub gatherings, an oversized turtleneck will work overtime, worn over any one of those slip dresses you unconsciously bought a few too many of this summer in an effort to channel Nineties-era Carolyn Bessette Kennedy.

The bareback turtleneck dress

​My favourite thing about turtlenecks is that they’re full of plot twists. To the uninitiated turtleneck aficionados out there, the item might seem one of the most modest on the market. However, we can all agree that 2019 has been the most fashionable time on TV. There killer style on Killing Eve and pinks-and-pearls galore on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. For me though, the show with the most lasting impact was Succession.

Mireille Darc wearing a backless Guy Laroche dress in The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe

In season two, we witnessed the metamorphosis of Shiv Roy’s style from tomboy to French art house culture vulture in a navy backless turtleneck dress by Gabriela Hearst. Although it was an unconfirmed nod to Mireille Darc’s bareback Guy Laroche dress in the French comedy film, The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe, you don’t need to go to Roy family extremes for validation. This sheer high neck jumper from Alexander McQueen (£1,175, Alexander McQueen) can be just as effective, especially if you wear it back-to-front (a style trick that the Duchess of Cambridge once used with a Gucci blouse).

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