Photographer, traveller and writer Matthew Hranek sings the praises of the evergreen roll neck jumper - and some of its more illustrious proponents.

The roll-neck, polo neck or turtleneck (as us Yanks call them) has been a major part of my clothing arsenal for my entire adult life, having spent much of it in the Northeast of America.

A little research shows that the roll-neck has been around for some time: an early iteration dates back to around the 15th century, when knights used a similar garment to protect their necks from chafing armor. In the 1860s British polo players adopted the look - hence the polo neck. In the 1920s Noel Coward popularized the turtleneck and created a middle-class fashion trend, while during World War II it became an official part of the US Navy’s uniform. And we all know no self-respecting ‘50s beatnik would be caught dead without one.

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Growing up in the climate of upstate NY, it was a given that turtlenecks were a ubiquitous wardrobe staple. My father wore black ones with tan corduroy trousers and suede chukka boots, or under one of his Harris tweeds on cold winter days. Of course, I admired them on some of my favourite style icons like Michael Caine, Steve McQueen, Robert Redford and Ernest Hemingway. It didn’t escape my attention that they were also favoured by adventurers like Shackleton and Hillary.

My love affair with the turtleneck has never quite stopped. I have stacks of them in a variety of weights, wools and styles, and I always pack one when I travel. They’re practical on chilly planes, and layer beautifully under a pea coat or waxed jacket. Or, they can be dressed up under a tweed, as my father wore his.

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My wife would certainly contest this, but you really can’t have too many turtleneck sweaters. If you live in a climate that often dips below zero – as I do - they become an essential part of your wardrobe. A warm neck means a warm body, for me. I also think they are just so damn good looking on most men. They suit the elegant (think Halston) to the rugged (think Captain George Phillips)

This season’s lambswool roll necks from Drake’s are spot on. They are knitted in Scotland of classic styling, modern fit and wonderful weight. The wool is soft and works perfectly on its own or under that waxed jacket or tweed in your wardrobe. They come in a must-have colour palette of navy blue, grey, forest green, red and ecru. I need to own them all!

As I dispatch this I’m sitting in plus 90 degree heat on a sun drenched terrace in Greece. But honestly, with cold beer in hand, my mind is wandering to brisk fall days and turtleneck weather.

 
This article was originally published online in October 2018, under the title 'Roll Models'.