Updated: Mar 21
The turtleneck's strength is in its versatility. The garment works well as part of a more dressed-down look that makes an impression.
Turtlenecks and rollnecks can be such a powerful addition to your outfit, while still remaining comfortable and easy to wear items. Even though they are easy items to add, there are still valuable tips and advice to know on how to wear turtlenecks in any environment; whether casual or formal.
Expert Advice for Wearing a Turtleneck
As with corduroy, dad jeans and chunky trainers, the once-stuffy turtleneck has been embraced by younger generations. Worn looser or with unexpected items (under a work shirt, say, or with some baggy cropped trousers), the trick here is remembering what would have been uncool five years ago and doing exactly that with a smile on your face.
But rather than wearing a turtleneck with joggers and work boots in homage to ‘Hotline Bling’, you can create alternative opportunities to be refined in your creativity in leveraging your turtleneck. A fine-gauge example can look handsome under an Oxford shirt, while mid-gauge styles offer all the warmth of weightier versions when slotted under a gilet or overshirt. In this post, we will elaborate on the many ways we can wear a turtleneck garment for a well-designed, high performance look that makes an impression.
But first... a Quick Look at History
In modern fashion, the seventies are going strong in menswear, and few pieces are as synonymous with the decade of Concorde, glam rock and Kevin Keegan’s hair as the turtleneck. With a list of wearers that includes Sir Michael Caine and James Bond, the rollneck isn’t lacking in masculine credentials.
To nail the look, opt for a mid-weight knit and experiment with tucking it into a pair of trousers before capping off with a shearling jacket. Another charismatic look would be to layer a mid-to-thick gauge rollneck under a leather jacket and finish with tailored trousers for an effect that can fly in a business-casual office, or jeans for the weekend.
Tips for Wearing Turtlenecks in a Casual Environment
Wearing a Turtleneck Under a Dress Shirt or Button-down
There are many ways to wear a turtleneck, and incorporating the garment within your capsule wardrobe and with other accessories is a surefire way to make an impression. For instance, if you want to make a statement, you could wear a fine gold chain outside the rollneck.
As an allusion to a 1970's playboy look, you have the option to wear a fine-gauge fitted rollneck under a dress shirt as an alternative to a tee – or a tie. However, experimenting with contrasting block colours and especially patterns may end up looking overwhelming. If you choose to be creative, start with a white shirt and pair with darker colours such as black, navy or burgundy. Deeper shades of green work well, too and can be quite flattering. With chambray and darker shirts, consider cream or off-white underneath.
Pairing a Turtleneck with a Cardigan
Cardigans are a stylish option for an alternative look, and we can work them with turtlenecks to create a divergent impression. For instance, turtlenecks work brilliantly worn under a sleeveless V-neck tank top or a cardigan. The former style is a great way to play with patterns. Explore a jacquard pattern – Gucci, for example, has some exquisite styles – or an argyle and select one of the colours and match this with a block-colour turtleneck to be worn underneath. Round-neck tank tops are recommended and have been known to compliment this look well. Again, opt for a fine-gauge knit to avoid excessive bulking – and recall that the effect you are going for is that, from a distance, the two garments will appear to be one piece.
You also have the flexibility to layer a cardigan over a turtleneck. When doing this, think of the top piece as outerwear, allowing you to take it off to avoid overheating when you are indoors. Shawl-collared cardigans are recommended – especially those with texture such as cabling. Alternatively, you may select a piece that is trimmed like a jacket with lapels and patch pockets.
Maximizing Your Turtleneck at the Office
For office wear, go for a classic spread collar and keep the top two buttons undone to keep the neckline clean. To avoid bulking around the waist, ensure that we fit both the turtleneck and the shirt, and pull them down before tucking them into your pants or trousers – you may find that pleated styles are more comfortable than flat-fronted when creating this look.
Depending on the formality of your office, you can consider pairing this approach with a double-breasted blazer, however, as always, ensure the sweater and the shirt are fitted as you will be adding an extra layer of material around your middle. If you are concerned about your waistline, single-breasted blazers work just as well. If you simply want to prioritize comfort and minimalism without many layers, a single-breasted tailored coat cut to above the knee will work well as an alternative to a jacket.
How to Wear Heavier Well-Insulated Knitwear
Wearing a chunky-knit turtleneck is one of winter’s greatest pleasures and is a classic move during the holiday season whether you are relaxing with family or engaging at a party. With knitwear, there are multiple fabric options to consider, for instance luxurious cashmere is my personal recommendation for an extremely classic and flattering look. There is also the classic Aran, that most stylish friend of the fisherman.
In terms of comfort, experience, and versatility, the advantage of cashmere is that it feels sublime against the skin, while you may want to wear something underneath a Shetland or merino wool to keep you comfortable. Be aware that heavier knitwear can do its job exceedingly well; therefore, if you walk off the street into a centrally heated space, you may feel like melting.
So, if you think take it off, consider what you wear underneath. Luckily, because heavy knitwear should never be body-hugging, you can get away with wearing it over a shirt – a button-down collar is recommended as it will keep the neckline clean and crisp.
In terms of styling strategy, a heavier knitwear turtleneck is best worn casually, twinned with jeans and under either a leather jacket or, as a nod to maritime tradition, a navy peacoat. As winter turns to spring, you might want to consider a denim jacket instead to relieve yourself of heat. Generally, incorporating knitwear into your wardrobe opens possibilities to twin the look with a suitably substantial pair of shoes – motorcycle boots work particularly well, depending on the situation.
Strategies for Wearing Turtlenecks in Formal Settings
Dressing in a Turtleneck for a Black-Tie Event
Now that red-carpet rules have been relaxed, a turtleneck is an excellent way to refresh your image if you don’t want to wear a bow tie to a black-tie event. The key to making this work is directly featured in the name, so we recommend a black rollneck. Always choose a fine-gauge knit. The look is ideally minimal so you can make an impression with a statement tuxedo rather than having to stick to a traditional dinner jacket.
Velvet works well with a black turtleneck, and bottle green is particularly stylish and flattering as black can look dusty under artificial light. Blues and burnt oranges are fashionable, as well. Or you could opt for an eye-catching patterned brocade or jacquard. For more formal gatherings, events, or philanthropy galas, it is wise to not wear anything under the knitwear, as this will be very obvious under artificial light, so select a piece you love that feels comfortable against your skin.
In terms of dress pants or trousers, consider a traditional look with a satin trim, though these do not have to be black. Pay attention to pair your socks as closely as possible to the colour of your trousers. This will cause a more elegant appearance and create a regal and tall effect.
Like the turtleneck, socks should also be designed in a fine-gauge manner, helping you avoid a bunching effect around the ankles. Patent shoes work best with evening wear, particularly a slipper style with a grosgrain ribbon detail.
Pairing a Turtleneck with a Suit
Whether it’s for a casual Friday getup that looks good outside the office or to tackle party season without having to truss up in a tux, a light-gauge rollneck is the perfect partner for a suit. Neutral colours that contrast with the tailoring are a fail-safe bet, so build a rotation of blacks, blues and earthy shades before attempting something more daring, such as jewel tones.
A turtleneck worn excellent under a suit is the pinnacle of no-tie office wear – the effect being a discreetly elegant and sharper look than an open-neck shirt. Here, fine-gauge merino knitwear is likely a better bet than cashmere – as it is slightly harder wearing and less likely to pill if worn under a jacket.
This look and style compliments double-breasted suits powerfully – for a casual take on power dressing, twin a camel-coloured rollneck with a chocolate pinstripe suit.
Select minimal with dress pants tailored close to the leg and, for footwear, substitute hand-polished monk straps for brogues to keep the look as sleek as possible. If you prefer single-breasted suits, you have the option to incorporate a charcoal suit with a lighter grey turtleneck underneath – navy works is an option, as well. When fitting and styling, ensure the knitwear fits neatly over the shoulders to reduce wrinkling and stress the neatness. In this situation, avoid wearing T-shirts underneath as the neck seam will be visible and might look like you are sporting a thermal vest."
Minimalism and Wearing a Turtleneck Beneath an Overcoat
Sometimes style and practicality are so hopelessly off-kilter that finding something that a) looks half-decent and b) is genuinely easy to wear is just asking too much. However, when worn under an overcoat, a rollneck is an excellent way to brave low temperatures in high style.
For a smart outfit, anchor your top half with a pair of wool trousers and leather boots, or skew casual with chinos and sneakers for solid off-duty attire.
The Bottom Line
Some wardrobe items will always be essential; turtlenecks and rollnecks (mocks) fall into that category. Whether you are getting ready for a casual event with some friends, or a more formal event (business-related, date), you will put a turtleneck and rollneck to use. It will make any outfit that much more powerful and will help you make the impression you're looking for. Therefore, those pieces will become inevitable in your capsule wardrobe.
Check out our series on how to start building your capsule wardrobe to see which other items you need.