A statement of quiet, yet bold elegance, a garment that it’s perfect in its simplicity. The ease it conveys, the poise it calls for, the way it sets off the face… It’s no wonder that the turtleneck, or the polo neck sweater, was one of the pieces that became synonymous with Audrey Hepburn. And my attention falls upon the most classic of them all, the black turtleneck. Following the line of the body, with its collar close fitting and long enough to be folded over, that was the typical polo neck pullover. I don’t think there is any other item that is equal parts comfortable and sophisticated.
As we are in late autumn, I must say that one of the things I most love about it is how, in cold weather, opting for a turtleneck instead of a scarf instantly elevates your look. A layer of warmth and elegance. You really can not improve on a polo neck and trench or on a roll neck and beautiful coat on top. Because less is more.
Films, not fashion (it doesn’t have the same power), and the style icons they created have been the ones who have propelled and maintained the powerful allure of the turtleneck (and of many other ageless wardrobe items) over time. Are we even interested in the brands of the sweaters Audrey Hepburn, or Marilyn Monroe, or Lauren Bacall, or Brigitte Bardot wore? It is their look, their style that we admire, and that’s what true style really is about.
A particular kind of the turtleneck was popularised by “the sweater girls” of the 40’s and 50’s, a term that described Hollywood actresses like Lana Turner, Jayne Mansfield and Jane Russell, who adopted the fashion of wearing sweaters two sizes too small to emphasize their busts and enhance their sex appeal. Lana Turner was the one who, with her debut role in They Won’t Forget, brought the turtleneck into vogue. But if the “sweater girls” made it sexy, Audrey made it timeless. And I think I will stick with the latter.
But it’s also true that I can not leave out designers like Calvin Klein, Halston and Ralph Lauren when I think of the enduring appeal of the turtleneck. It’s a garment that has been part of their collections, at one time or another. Furthermore, it’s been part of their personal style. It’s easy to see how the polo neck would naturally integrate in the clean, streamlined aesthetic of Halston and Calvin Klein designs, and it’s just as easy to picture it paired with a long evening skirt and heirloom jewellery or with a tuxedo at Ralph Lauren. It really goes with everything.
“Turtlenecks are the most comfortable garment you can wear. They move with the body, and they’re flattering too, because they accentuate the face and elongate the figure. They make life so easy: you can wear a turtleneck to work and then afterwards throw on a jacket, and it becomes very dressy. You can go anywhere you like,” Halston said.
And there is the fashion photography that has played its part in immortalising the turtleneck look too. And the most recent story I can think of is Arizona Muse in the Louis Vuitton ad campaign photographed by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin. A look that can make history.
It is however the striking black and white fashion photography, especially of the likes of Peter Lindbergh and Bruce Weber, that I consider the best canvas for emphasizing the undeniable allure and the plea for naturalness of the turtleneck. Photography that has further enhanced its iconic status.
If you want to have a wardrobe staple that will last you for years to come, choose fabrics such as merino wool, cashmere or even cotton. An investment in quality always pays off and will always make a difference.
photos: 1,2-Steven Meisel for Vanity Fair, 1991 / 2-on the set of War and Peace, 1953 (Audrey Hepburn) / 4-publicity still (Lauren Bacall) / 5-Metro Goldwyn Meyer (Jean Simmons) / 6-Alfred Eisentaedt for Life Magazine, 1953 (Marilyn Monroe at home in Hollywood) / 7-Bruce Weber for Calvin Klein Fall 1986 ad campaign / 8-Ralph Lauren ad campaign / 9-David Sims for Esprit Fall 2011 ad campaign (Gisele Bündchen) / 10-Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin for Louis Vuitton ad campaign (Arizona Muse) / 11-Bruce Weber for Vogue Italia, October 2001 (Kate Moss) / 12-source unknown (Linda Evengelista) / 13-Nico for Marie Claire France, November 2013, styled by Claudia Englmann (Daria Werbowy) / 14-Peter Lindbergh (Milla Jovovich)