Bringing Back the Turtleneck: How to Wear Turtleneck Sweaters

A perfect blend of comfort and style

The turtleneck is a surprisingly versatile garment. Not only does it have practical considerations in winter, but it finds itself at home on a number of body types and in several different outfit styles. Along with its relative the 1/4 Zip, these are a great garment for winter. The style has been falling in and out of popularity for decades, and is recently coming back into the mainstream once more; which means now is a great time to try the look!

About the Turtleneck:

Originally sported by English polo players in the 19th century, the turtleneck and its derivatives have spent considerable time both in and out of fashion editorials since. With the last big surge of popularity in turtlenecks being in the 1960’s/70’s when they were sported by a number of film and rock stars, hearing the name may now conjure up images of your grandfather wearing a skivvy. But fear not! The turtleneck is a stylish garment and if the big hitters of the late 60’s could pull it off, you can do it too. It’s also never been a better time to experiment with a turtleneck considering even elbow pads on sport jackets are back in fashion!

How To Style a Turtleneck:

The classic turtleneck is exactly that; a classic look. Using it as a layering item can give off several different vibes depending what you pair it with.

Suit: If you are wearing a suit on a cooler day and do not want to wear a collared shirt, you can don a turtleneck and it will look right at home in the ensemble. A thinner, lighter turtleneck will do best here as opposed to a chunkier one.

Pea Coat: Pairing a turtleneck sweater with a peacoat is an instant win. What you do for your trousers is up to you; denim jeans or heavier wool trousers are good options. Pick a ribbed knit sweater for best results. If you feel like channeling a vintage nautical vibe, try a chunky turtleneck in navy paired with a black wool peacoat.

Source: Christopher Michael on

Sport Jacket: Turtlenecks and sport jackets are a great combination, giving a touch of class to a casual look. Steve McQueen in Bullitt (as pictured above) is a great example of this look.

Unlayered: If you want to wear your turtleneck without extra layers on top, you are quite free in what to pair with it. It will go with everything from denims to suit pants, just make sure you choose your pants fit according to whether your sweater is chunky or closely fitted. If you want to wear a hat with it, most will work with it. Pair your sweater with a flat peak cap for an instant artist vibe.

Warning! Wear a turtleneck as a base layer. Any sort of shirt will likely show beneath the fabric, and a collar will appear especially strange. Avoid wearing anything but an undershirt beneath your turtleneck.

About The 1/4 Zip:

A more modern take on the turtleneck, this style gives a modular choice to your outfit and allows you to – in a sense – adjust the level of warmth. A smart 1/4 zip is great for a weekend or smart casual look, while a sportier looking one can also work well for your weekend vibe or a sports casual look.

In this photo I’m wearing a 1/4 zip by Calvin Klein, from the ‘Liquid Touch’ range.

How to Style the 1/4 Zip:

I find that where the turtleneck shines most as a layer in an outfit, the 1/4 zip is often better suited to being the top layer of your outfit. While wool and cotton 1/4 zip sweaters can work well in both layered and unlayered outfits, I would recommend that a sportier style 1/4 zip such as the one pictured above is best worn unlayered. It is my belief that the 1/4 zip works best as a base layer, just like its cousin the turtleneck. However, unlike the turtleneck, it is not a cardinal rule that you should not wear anything underneath a 1/4 zip; a collared shirt will go with a 1/4 zip without causing trouble. Whether you like that look, is up to you!

A stylish cotton 1/4 zip by Ted Baker.

Overcoat: A single breasted overcoat with lapels on the narrower side can look great with a zipped down 1/4 zip in a contrasting colour. I have a grey herringbone overcoat which I like to pair with a khaki Nautica 1/4 zip.

Sport Jacket: A good slim 1/4 zip paired with a casual sport jacket can be a dashing look. One of my favourite outfits a couple of years ago (unfortunately training for sports made me too large for both garments!) was a maroon Armani Exchange ribbed 1/4 zip paired with a black corduroy Calvin Klein single-breasted two button sport coat, with indigo denim selvedge jeans and black Dr. Martens boots. For those of you reading at home thinking ‘I wish I could afford that’, don’t fear; both of these garments were thrifted and probably cost me $30 all up. Thrift shops are a great place to pick up items you would normally be priced out of attaining.

Workwear: For a vintage workwear aesthetic, try pairing your 1/4 zip with a lumber jacket, dark denim Levis and work boots such as Timberlands, Red Wings or R.M. Williams.

Unlayered, Sports 1/4 Zip: The quintessential pairing for a sport style 1/4 zip is a pair of khaki chinos. Smart dark denims can also work well.

Unlayered, Wool/Cotton 1/4 Zip: Your choices are limitless here. Any style of pants will work, from jeans to twill pants, chinos, wool flannel pants or tailored pants. The world is your oyster here!

My collar is zipped down, how do I style it? However you think suits you best! Fold your collar down for a more muted, reserved look. Wear your collar proudly popped to add a touch of preppy or laddish boisterousness to your outfit.

What colours should you look for, or avoid?

With sweaters, I believe it is best to look at the colours of the jackets you own, and avoid buying sweaters in those colours. This rule should apply at least for the first sweater that you buy. The reason for this is that if you were to pair a shirt with a jacket of the exact same colour, you would likely find that it does not look good. I believe the same applies to sweaters.

This being said, you can easily avoid that pitfall by buying a sweater in a different shade. For example if you have mid grey and navy jackets, you can buy a light grey sweater and it will still complement nicely both of your jackets.

An ideal colour for sweaters.

My personal staple colours for turtlenecks are navy blue, light grey and dark shades of red such as maroon and burgundy. I find these to be the most versatile and flattering. You may also want to consider khaki, olive, rust and other shades of grey. The only colours to avoid would be colours that you feel do not suit you. And perhaps avoid buying a black turtleneck, unless you are prepared for the onslaught of Tom Cruise jokes (you won’t get these if you buy a 1/4 zip instead!).

There you have it!

A bit of backstory and advice on turtlenecks and their 1/4 zip cousins. They’re a great piece, at home with most body types and hair types; and a worthy addition to your wardrobe!

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With content features ranging from appearances on popular menswear hubs (The Rake, StyleForum, Put This On) to French perfume newsletters and university course readings, Sam is a writer, designer and enthusiast in the fields of menswear and fragrance.

9 thoughts on “Bringing Back the Turtleneck: How to Wear Turtleneck Sweaters

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