AKA: polo neck (UK), roll neck (UK), skivvy (Australia & New Zealand)

How to say it: as it looks

Traditional Features: 


  • fits close to the neck
  • round and high
  • folds over on itself
  • usually made from a knit fabric
  • heights of folded collar range from beneath the chin to just above the neckline


…of the style: The high-necked style of the turtleneck dates way back to Medieval times (5th – 15th centuries) when knights would wear a turtleneck tunic under their chain mail to protect their necks from chaffing in battle. Since then, the style has popped in and out of history – British Polo players wore them in the 1860s, winter sports (especially ice hockey) used them in their uniforms in the 1880s, and it was the height of bicycle riding fashion in the 1890s. The Gibson Girls preferred the high-necked style in the early 1900s, but it was sailors, who favoured the style to keep warm and dry(ish) on the high seas, that really spread the style around the world (the turtleneck was officially part of the US Navy uniform by WWII).

In terms of modern fashion, it was the English playwright Noel Coward who brought attention to the style and the turtleneck became a middle-class fashion trend in the 1920s(albeit a short lived one). Feminists of this time also adopted the style, turning it into a unisex garment quite early on.

Flappers poo-pooed the turtleneck, but the style was not forgotten and in the 1950s Beatniks and Existentialists brought the look back to the forefront of fashion cool. Audrey Hepburn leant her substantial star power to the look in Funny Face in 1957 while in the 1960s the Beatles wore turtlenecks on the cover of their album With the Beatles and Steve McQueen proved that even real men could rock the turtleneck.

Since then the turtleneck has been adopted into the Preppy style, caused commotion as an anti-tie rebellion at formal occasions and been worn by some of the most influential people of the 20th century including Carl Sagan and  the late, great Steve Jobs.

In the 21st century the turtleneck is often ridiculed as a childish look, but the fact remains that it is comfortable and warm, and thanks to a revival on the runways in 2012, the style is back in vogue – at least for now.

…of the name: According to a couple of sources, the name turtleneck originated in Sweden with a man named Gerhard Thern. Apparently, Thern was a turtle lover and used to take his pet turtles for walks in the evenings. Said turtles would get quite cold in the winter so Thern designed a long-necked sweater for his pets to wear during there walks. As their walks were quite long and slow, many people saw the be-sweatered turtles, loved the style and asked Thern to make them in human sizes. Thern refused and in a cruel twist of fate, succumbed to the cold whilst out walking and died. The story goes that Thern’s son then took over the patent for the turtle sweaters and extended it to include human versions.

I could not substantiate this story at all and suspect that it is in fact, just a story. But it is a nice little tale so I thought I would include it. The name Turtleneck more likely came from the fact that when one puts on a turtleneck, one’s head pops out the top like a turtle popping out of its shell. The high, tight collar of the style also elongates the wearer’s neck, much like a turtle.

The British term for the style, Polo Neck, is thought to have come from the Polo players who wore the style in the 1860s.

For more info on Turtlenecks try Wikipedia, ManRepeller, EcoSalon or check out the Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion

For the full story of Gerhard Thern, click here

Random Facts

  • The mock Turtleneck has the same basic silhouette, but it is shorter and not designed to be folded over.
  • There is such a thing as the cowl turtleneck, which is a wider, looser version of the style that tends to flop, creating a softer look than the traditional collar.

21st Century Turtlenecks

Let’s face it, a turtleneck can be the best thing ever in the winter – whether on a top, a sweater or a dress, the style is warm and cosy and keeps the cold out. And the good news is that right now the turtleneck is back in vogue, so you can wear those high necks without fear of ridicule.

lady and the sailor matthew williamson

The Lady & The Sailor, Matthew Williamson

vera wang missoni

Vera Wang, Missoni


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