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Once synonymous with Audrey Hepburn and donned by the likes of style icons, such as Marilyn Monroe herself – the black turtleneck is an undeniable classic.
The love for this bold yet simple piece was not only limited to actresses. Political figures, such as Jackie O, Princess Diana, and Hilary Clinton, broke new ground in the fashion scene when they were photographed wearing black turtlenecks.
This wardrobe staple, associated with powerful women throughout history, has seen its fair share of ups and downs. Perhaps, women all over the world hold it close to their hearts to channel the spirit of these influential personalities.
Or, maybe it just flatters their figures like none other. After all, what can beat the combined power of the sultry turtleneck silhouette and the slimming quality of black clothing?
Interestingly, the style trend wasn’t always the widespread phenomenon that everyone admired. Let’s take a deeper look into how it became such a statement piece.
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All You Need To Know About Black Turtlenecks
When it comes to turtlenecks, the first signs of its mainstream appeal could be traced back to the 19th century. Far from being the symbol of Parisian chic that it is today, turtlenecks were usually reserved for the working class, which mainly consisted of men.
The practicality, protection, and warmth that a turtleneck offers was well-suited for fishermen and other laborers who worked outdoors even through chilly winters. For the same reason, the utilitarian design was favored by soldiers and sailors. Needless to say, it was a sign of masculine force and hard labor.
In fact, turtlenecks were initially called “polo necks” in the mid-1800s because polo players wore them while engaged in the sport. The trend continued throughout the 19th century, only crossing over to women’s apparel at the turn of the century.
From A Working Man’s Uniform To A Seductive Symbol
The “Gibson Girl” became a popular phenomenon in the early 1900s. Generally visualized as an active, attractive, and independent woman, she was a fictional character that depicted the ideal girl of the time. Modesty was also one of her most noble traits, and so, she borrowed the working man’s beloved turtleneck, featuring a high neckline.
But perhaps, it was around the 1940s and 1950s that the masculine turtleneck truly began to evolve into the figure-hugging piece that it is today. Worn most notably by Hollywood actress Jayne Mansfield, the silhouette of the new and improved turtleneck was soon popularized as a seductive symbol.
In fact, other actresses, such as Lana Turner and Jane Russell followed suit and spearheaded the movement of wearing turtlenecks that were two sizes too small. Suffice to say, this new style accentuated the bust and enhanced curves without being too scandalizing.
From A Seductive Symbol To A Cultural Symbol
Things were stirring up by the end of the Second World War, as the aesthetics of the cultural renaissance in Paris took over the Western world. Perhaps, inspired by the free-thinking French writers, existential artists also began donning the turtleneck to symbolize their ideas.
Glamor with a somber intelligence was in vogue – and nothing said that better than the practical yet aesthetically pleasing turtleneck. In fact, the black piece of clothing, worn with a French beret, remains an outfit associated with French painters.
However, this look was evidently reserved for academicians, philosophers, artists, and intellectuals. With that being said, it was still not part of the everyday man or woman’s closet. In fact, these free thinkers were considered to be part of the “beatniks” – a group of hipsters and rebels.
Even when Audrey Hepburn first wore a black turtleneck in a dance segment for the movie “Funny Face”, the scene was regarded as a satire of these bohemian free spirits. The anti-mainstream reputation of the black turtleneck was further emphasized throughout the ’70s by the feminist movement.
Individual female activists and the Black Panthers were spotted sporting what looked like a sign of resistance. Moreover, the lesser-worn style proved to be a convenient uniform that was unique at the same time.
In comparison, the 1980s was an uneventful decade for the black turtleneck. Apart from being relegated to the pile of warm winter staples, it was regarded as dull and boring. The infamous reputation continued into the ‘90s – piled on by the fact that it was the daily outfit of less fashion-forward personalities, such as Steve Jobs.
Revival In The 2000s
Even till the early to mid-2000s, turtlenecks still served as a winter essential and nothing more. Worn mainly by school children and adults with a conservative sense of style, the black turtleneck was far from a fashion statement. However, with “normcore” entering the scene in the second decade of the 2000s, smart-casuals were in vogue again.
The ‘90s style saw a revival in the late 2010s. In addition to the “cool” factor associated with dressing down, it led to a comeback of the black turtleneck. Perhaps, its anti-establishment character, its comfort and practicality, and the popularity of techies, such as Elon Musk – all lent a hand.
Why Black Turtlenecks Keep Coming Back In Style
Although the black turtleneck is more popular as women’s wear today, it has had a consistently unisex appeal throughout history. After all, it was first introduced as a protective and warm piece of clothing for men. Later, the beatniks, who took inspiration from the French artists of the ‘70s, also embraced it to make bold political statements.
More recently, a viral photograph of Hollywood actor, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, from the ‘90s, has been making rounds on the internet. In this blast from the past, he is seen wearing a black turtleneck with a pair of jeans and a silver chain. Almost immediately, the entire internet began recreating the look – which started as a joke but soon became a trend.
Needless to say, black turtlenecks offer the same comfort, versatility, style, and historical relevance to men as it does to women.
19th-century sailors loved it for its practicality, and so do we.
Turtlenecks eliminate the need for covering up the neck with a scarf during colder months. Moreover, adjusting the scarf time and again can get cumbersome. Let’s not forget how easily they get caught on door hinges and trapped by car doors. What’s more, some turtleneck sweaters can be pulled up to the nose to protect the face against cold drafts.
Apart from providing warmth, turtleneck sweaters are synonymous with effortless style. Simply pull it over your head, and you are ready to go – no need to iron it or mess with buttons.
Styling a black turtleneck is easy – even if you have never opened a fashion magazine in your life.
Anyhow, black clothes are slendering and complement most colors. Be it skirts, jeans, or even sweatpants; a black turtleneck will adapt to suit whatever you put on. The sophisticated silhouette and bold design are enough to make a statement wherever you wear it.
However, on the days when it is freezing, you can layer the piece with a coat or sweater for extra warmth. At the same time, layering also offers you the opportunity to add a pop of color to the whole outfit.
Whether you are lounging at home or going on a first date, a black turtleneck is a suitable choice for every mood and occasion.
Consider how it is sophisticated enough to be worn at a job interview or even a funeral; at the same time, it is equally appropriate for a house party or lunch at the restaurant. Not to mention how it serves as a brilliant addition to your Friday work attire – or anytime you are planning to get drinks with colleagues right after work.
It is not unknown that the fashion world recycles trends from the past. However, style icons, such as Audrey Hepburn and Andy Warhol, have made this versatile piece timeless.
Most of us look up to public figures for inspiration, and this also extends to who we see as our fashion influences. For many women, it is possible that wearing the black turtleneck brings them closer to the feminist icons, such as the Black Panthers.
Similarly, it may be Princess Diana or Jackie O’s outfits that inspired you to start dressing like the world-famous icons of elegance. On the other hand, you may be interested in technology, which is why you look up to Steve Jobs.
Interestingly, Steve Jobs asked the Japanese designer Issey Miyake to make hundreds of black turtlenecks to do away with the hassle of picking out an outfit for work every day. In other words, his fashion sense was dictated by his pragmatism and work ethic.
With that being said, wearing a black turtleneck to work every day, as Steve Jobs did, also has a deeper meaning.
How To Style A Turtleneck
Perhaps the easiest way to jazz up a black turtleneck outfit is by adding a black beret.
You can pair the look with black shoes and a neutral-colored overcoat. Finally, a tan-leather handbag completes this ensemble that expresses French simplicity to the T.
With A Blazer
Vintage and classy; a black blazer with a black turtleneck is a match made in heaven.
Apart from making you appear slim, a structured blazer with sharp lines will tone down the frumpiness of even the wooliest turtleneck sweaters. Moreover, an understated torso means that you can get away with bright-colored shoes, flashy earrings, or a statement handbag without looking over the top.
While this strategy is excellent for formal events or the workplace, you can afford to be more adventurous when it comes to casual outings. Pair a pink blazer with a black turtleneck for a feminine touch on days when you are out on a picnic. Alternatively, a red-hot blazer adds a sensual touch while conveying the message that you mean business.
Channel the energy of the creative geniuses and writers of the 1970s by accessorizing with a pair of retro glasses. After all, being a geek is cool in the computer age!
Interestingly, even Marilyn Monroe was once photographed wearing a black turtleneck with a pair of glasses in an attempt to be taken more seriously.
Take a page out of Chanel’s style rulebook, and add a touch of elegance with a tweed blazer and skirt. Apart from making you look like a million dollars, tweed is a comfortable fabric that allows you to move freely.
With A Graphic Tee
Black turtlenecks under graphic tees are a surefire way to achieve a laidback look.
Not only do you look relaxed and casual in this outfit, but graphic tees also allow you to show some personality. Wear Star Wars merchandise, or announce to the world that you are a Metallica fan with a rocking Metallica T-shirt!
With A Pencil Skirt
Nothing says business quite like the pencil skirt.
With that being said, combine comfort and professionalism with a black turtleneck tucked into a gray pencil skirt. Pair it with shimmery heels, a matching bag, and sunglasses to show everyone who is the boss.
With A Knitted Sweater
For a bohemian look, go for a knitted sweater and a maxi skirt. Pair this with ankle-strap heels, Mary Janes, or even sandals. Needless to say, this outfit is probably the most comfortable one out of all.
With A Leather Jacket
Layer your black turtleneck with a black leather jacket for a touch of “cool.” Furthermore, adding black latex pants and boots to the ensemble will complete the “biker girl” look.
On the flip side, you may soften the masculine character of a fitting leather jacket with a long floral skirt and black knee-high boots. Either way, these bold outfits will be turning heads wherever you go.
Not many people are aware of the rich history of the humble black turtleneck. In fact, how many of us really know the historical context behind every piece of clothing we own?
This goes to show that we often underestimate how fashion shapes society and individuals. Needless to say, the ebb and flow of fashion pieces, such as the black turtleneck, reveals so much about the world.
For instance, the past several years have witnessed the steady rise of the black turtleneck’s popularity. After studying the history of this piece of clothing, we know that it was first favored for its practicality, and was also known as a symbol of resistance at one time.
With that being said, it’s not surprising that the black turtleneck is now famous with this new generation of politically-conscious youth that prioritize comfort over style.
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