The turtleneck is a style of clothing with a high neck. Originally it was mostly used on heavy sweaters for cold weather.

Now you can find turtleneck versions of warm weather clothes, even crop top styles if you dare to bare your belly button. I think turtlenecks are best for when it's really cold and you want to wear something warm and snuggly. Some of the ones made of light fabrics can look really fabulous, though.

Turtlenecks come in two main flavors. A mock turtleneck just fits closely on your neck, sort of like the collars Catholic priests wear. A "true" turtleneck has extra fabric that gets gathered in folds up around your neck.


The earliest mock turtlenecks might date back to the 15th century or earlier. It depends on how you want to define them. That seems to make this style older than the "real" turtleneck. Sure, it's weird, but fashion is full of weirdness.

It's hard to tell where and when the "true" turtleneck was first invented. In one place, you can read how it was invented in England sometime in the 1890's to help you keep warm while riding your new-fangled bicycle. But then you find a photo from the 1880's, full of turtlenecks on a Nova Scotia hockey team. I wouldn't be surprised if it was really invented by sheep herders somewhere. After all, they've got lots of extra wool to experiment with.

Eventually the turtleneck sweater got adopted by sailors, probably because they have to be outside doing work in cold weather. A turtleneck is great for that. Like with so many other things, it was the sailors who spread it all over the world. By World War II it was accepted as part of the official uniform in the US Navy.

The fashion world first got interested in turtlenecks in the 1920's. Then they got very popular for awhile, because Noel Coward was wearing them. I guess back then more people who cared about fashion still thought writers were pretty cool.

The big boost for turtleneck fashion started in the 1950's. American beatniks picked them up from the French, and then fashion designers started to use them. It wasn't long after that when Audrey Hepburn made them wildly popular just by being seen in one - a lot like what she did for short hair and other fashion trends. In the '60's, Steve McQueen showed that a man didn't have to be a beatnik to wear a turtleneck, and he could look great doing it.

Ever since then, different kinds of turtlenecks have been going in and out of style every few years.


Remember how I said turtlenecks come in two main flavors? Well, I lied. Actually there's three - but only one has its own name. It would've taken too long to explain all that. I wanted you to get through the introduction before you got bored. If you've read this far you must want more details.

We already talked about the mock turtleneck. It has just enough extra fabric to climb up your neck a little bit, so it will have that close fitting turtleneck look. This is usually the best style for warm weather clothes.

The middle flavor has more fabric. It might go high enough to touch your ears without having to stretch the fabric much. When you fold the neck part down, the look is pretty much the same as the mock turtleneck. You can make the folds toward the outside if you get too warm, or you can fold toward the inside so it's nice and snug and keeps the cold air out. Obviously that makes this the best style for chilly weather. It's also the one most likely to be made for men.

The third variety has even more extra fabric, plus it has a wider neck opening. When you fold the neck part down, it hangs more loosely. You can adjust it to nicely frame your face. This gives a very soft style, so it's used mostly for women's clothes. Even if you don't have that "perfect" Audrey Hepburn body shape, you can still look really good in some of these.


In fashion terms, all these varieties are pretty adaptable. If you've been working out and you want to show off your great body, a snug fitting turtleneck can have you turning heads wherever you go. If you'd rather have people pay more attention to your mind, an oversize turtleneck can cover up most of the parts you want to keep to yourself.

Best of all: tight or baggy, a turtleneck will still be comfortable. You can't say that about every kind of clothing!

And no, no one paid me to say that.

Some references

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