Aran Jumpers Between Myth and Tradition

Despite some attempts to weave an origin story out of mythological or romantic anecdotes, the story of Aran jumpers began out of necessity. In the late 19th century, Northern Ireland faced a shortage of potatoes as well as rising unemployment and an emigration crisis. In a remarkable entrepreneurial fit, the Congested Districts Board for Ireland, among other things, suggested people weave and knit garments, and make a living out of this activity.

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Turtlenecks in Menswear

As soon as sweater season rolls around, you can be sure to see menswear guys post pictures of Steve McQueen in Bullitt and caption it with “mood.” It’s a no-brainer, the turtleneck look is absolutely killer and has gone on to influence countless gents around the world. Not only is it stylish, but it’s pretty practical and is perhaps one of the easiest things a guy can wear due to its minimalistic, yet sharp look. The best part is that no shirt or tie is necessary (unless you really want to wear them, despite them not being seen).

Now, most people know the progression of the turtleneck thanks for the copied content across different blogs. Some of the more romantic bloggers say that knights wore one of the first variations, an undershirt to protect themselves against their chainmail and armor. It then was adopted as a sweater, no doubt to keep the wearer warm and to prevent the need for a scarf, which featured an extended neck. Then, they briefly touch on Noel Coward before ultimately landing at the 1960s and later, calling it the uniform of the anti-establishment, citing beatniks, the Beatles, Steve McQueen, and Steve Jobs. This alone should be enough to point you in the direction of this loved sweater. If not, that’s why I’m here.

More personalities than people imagine wore the turtleneck back in the Golden Era. You could find it across everyone from film actors to the naval officers to even university students. In general, the chunkier turtleneck (whether plain weave or in the cable knit) was the main one worn, no doubt due to it’s more utilitarian nature. The finer weaves were reserved for loungewear at home rather than to be worn out. Early pictures and advertisements will have the turtleneck done in bold block stripes or with embroidered years or motifs, something that seems to have been lost today. Still, many guys back then wore them on their own or with full tailoring.

Inspiration can be found across all eras. While everyone likes to bring up Clark Gable and Noel Coward for Golden Era moods, one of my favorite has to be a 1910s illustration of a student wearing a cream roll neck with a stingy billed cap, grey flannels, and opera pumps.  Pretty rakish, but I’m sure that it provides plenty of inspiration for your own outfits. I also have found photographs of the Prince of Wales wearing one with jodhpurs and the beret combo from an old archive of 1930’s European family pictures.

The 1960s-1970s definitely reflected the shift away from mainly utilitarian use and more as a true replacement for the shirt and tie combo. The chunky cable knit ones were still in play, but it’s the thinner, finely woven ones that took the spotlight. These newer turtlenecks were more form-fitting, echoing the trends in the mod and disco phases. Now they were available in much more than dark navy, black, or cream: you could now see them in saturated colors and earth tones. Though they were a classic item, they were definitely a trend during this era.

In some cases, the growth of their popularity was indeed a rejection of corporate culture (think artists and musicians) as other people have noted. In others, it’s more of a futuristic fashion trend that negates the need to think too much about shirts and ties. For example, a solid turtleneck will contrast or help mute a tailored outfit making for a sharp, minimalistic look. Even if you were against neckwear from the beginning, you could achieve a more formal vibe with a turtleneck than if you simply wore an OCBD and a crew neck sweater; this is all thanks to the high, closed neck that subtly harkens back to the tunics worn by royalty back in the day. Michael Caine even doubled down on this “high neck closure” by wearing it with a double-breasted suit.

michale caine turtleneck sweater

Looking back now, we have a plethora of different examples to follow if you want to rock the turtleneck. Obviously the most common is that minimal 1960’s look with a nice, slim finely woven variation. It’s not a bad look, as it looks fantastic with most tailoring and serves as the starting out point for many. Navy blue is probably the best choice to get since it will work across a variety of outfits, but you could always experiment with something in light browns or burgundies/yellows to evoke the earthy palette of the 1970s. It especially helps when you feel like the patterns in your suit or sportcoat are too loud and need a bit of grounding. If you want to go for that look, I suggest looking at merino wool, since it’s supposed to be ultra fine in its texture. Luckily, you can find these at most stores like Uniqlo and J. Crew at a great value. There’s nothing wrong with experimenting with the different colors they offer (pairing it with simple grey trousers is great), but keep in mind that they won’t be as versatile as the navy or black ones.

Despite the fact that I live in California and merino are the only pieces I can wear without vigorously sweating, I definitely have a soft spot for looks that incorporate chunky turtlenecks. These make more sense if you’re wearing selvedge denim, heavy peacoats, double-riders, and scratchy tweed. It feels a bit more nautical and workwear-focused, that’s for sure, but I’ve always been a fan of a more rugged take on tailoring. Cream is probably the way to go, but soft greys and intricate weaves or even fair isle patterns can also work. North Sea Clothing is a place to consider if you want a solid wool one that echoes the traditional maritime ones, complete with a wide ribbing on the neck, cuffs, and hem.  Lambswool variations can be found at Drake’s (whose latest lookbook has plenty of turtleneck ideas) while the cashmere ones can be found anywhere from Uniqlo, Todd Snyder (at $300), and at Berluti ($1000+). I personally wish they made heavy guage in cotton for warmer climates, but a guy can dream!

J. Crew           •         Berluti          •         North Sea Clothing


Todd Snyder        •        Uniqlo          •          Uniqlo

Overall, I really recommend that you guys try the turtleneck out if you haven’t already. The utilitarian benefits are clearly there, but I like the added bonus of being able to look sharp without having to wear a tie or even a shirt.  While I like that this “throwback” piece of clothing has stuck around, I just hope that the horrid v-neck sweater/turtleneck hybrid doesn’t make a return appearance.  That simply belongs in the mid-1960s and should stay there forever.

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Seasonal Endorsement: The Roll-Neck Sweater

Fall knitwear has been arriving in stores for months now, but if you’re like some of us you’re still dying of heat. Even so, for the sake those of us with an eye on our winter wardrobes, I’d like to take a minute to discuss the venerable roll-neck sweater, which – trust me on this one – is one of the most useful, versatile, and comfortable items of clothing any man (or woman) can have in his or her closet.

First of all, let’s get the semantics out of the way. For the purposes of this article, a roll-neck sweater and a turtleneck sweater are the same thing – and both are the same as a polo-neck sweater. A true roll-neck features a tube of fabric sewn to the neckline of the shirt, which can then be pulled all the way up to the chin, or folded – or rolled – down to the neckline.

That’s in contrast to a mock-neck or mock-turtleneck sweater, on which both ends of the tube have been sewn to the neckline. I would suggest avoiding the mock-necks, as not only do they have a tendency to make the wearer look like a high school sports coach (there are, of course, exceptions), but on cold days it’s incredibly handy to be able to pull that extra fabric up to your chin if you choose.

You have a couple of good fabric options when choosing a rollneck. For simplicity’s sake, let’s discuss the general categories of cotton, wool, and cashmere variants. Cotton rollnecks – just thick shirts, really – are by far the easiest to wear and wash. Wear it as you would a t-shirt, either tucked into your trousers or worn free. I enjoy these pieces, as they’re usually less warm than actual knit rollnecks. That’s handy if you’re layering for unpredictable (or temperate) weather, but they tend not to look as sharp as the knit varieties. On the plus side, they’re cheap and available, and they’re the kind of basic that can easily be turned into part of a daily uniform. My choice is Uniqlo’s offerings, which come in thick, black cotton (although a variety of other colors are available) that’s plenty comfortable and stands up to repeated washing. These don’t come with ribbed hems, so there’s no mistaking them for a sweater. Keep in mind that cotton is still cotton – it doesn’t insulate like wool does, and if you sweat through it, it won’t be pleasant.

Your second choice is the fisherman-style heavy roll-neck, which encompasses the whole range of rural, outdoorsy, salt-n-pepper manly offerings. You can find these at a variety of outlets at a variety of prices, from LL Bean to Inis Meain. The two most important considerations for these pieces are weight and material. Consider whether you plan to layer your sweater under your outerwear (you probably are). If so, how thick do you want the fabric to be? Thick cable knits tend to work best under equally heavy coats and jackets, as the sweater won’t visually overpower the outerwear, which itself should be roomy enough for added bulk. If your sweater doesn’t fit under your coat, you’ll be neither warm nor comfortable.

Second, consider the fabric. If you have sensitive skin, or dislike scratchy things touching your neck, consider avoiding heavy wool offerings. Purists will howl, but the addition of nylon or – gasp – acrylic to a wool blend (sometimes a hallmark of a cheaper or more fashion-forward knit) can make the fabric much softer to the touch.

Finally, consider the color and style. If you’re interested in any of the available fisherman-style, aran, or cable-knit sweaters, greys and oatmeals are traditional colors. If instead you’re searching for a “commando” sweater, most of which feature cotton or nylon shoulder and elbow patches, you’ll probably find a lot of blacks and dark greens. Don’t limit yourself, however – any of these options are very versatile.

Lastly, if you’re interested in luxury, you can consider a cashmere roll-neck sweater. These tend to be simple, and if they’re good they don’t need to be complicated: buttery-soft cashmere wool is enough of a focal point. They also tend to be thinner, which makes it very simple to wear one under a sport coat, vest, or other lightweight outerwear. Although there are cheaper options available at major chain stores, cashmere still tends to be expensive – from about 200$ on the low end to well over $1,000 for fancy, branded options. A cashmere sweater is by no means a wardrobe necessity – but that’s the definition of luxury, isn’t it?

 

Blacks and charcoals are the easiest colors to pair with a variety of outfits, but tans, creams, and oatmeals are fantastic if you tend towards casual wear. However, a camel roll-neck is one of the easiest colors to pair, and looks as good underneath black wool as it does with tweeds.

And that’s really what makes the roll-neck sweater so handy: it can be worn with anything. Wool or cotton options are equally at home splitting wood with the sleeves worn up (yes, people still split wood), worn under a down vest while out for cocoa, or worn under a jacket when out on a date. A thinner, shirt-weight roll-neck in any fabric looks fantastic under a sport coat, and exists in the strange but wonderful intersection between sharp and casual. You can wear the same roll-neck sweater with faded blue jeans or sharp trousers without ever looking out of place. Plus, the elongating neckline looks truly fantastic under a dramatic lapel, whether you’re wearing a suit or high-collared outerwear. It’s one of the clothing world’s few go-anywhere pieces, and whether you’re wearing Ralph Lauren or Yohji Yamamoto, there’s a place in your wardrobe for a roll-neck sweater.

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