The Genesis of Turtlenecks
Part one in a new series called “The Real History of Fashion”
Inspired by our comedic brethren’s drunk versions of historical events and encouraged by the impending cold — which coincidentally also inspires a glass of red wine or two just after sunset — we’re putting forth a new series titled “The Real History of Fashion.” Up first and a half*: Amelia dissects the genesis of turtlenecks.
Turtlenecks are great. I have always thought so, even when Jessica What’s-her-face in my third grade class told me that only babies wear turtlenecks. There’s something about them that create this sense of instant elegance, hearkening back to a long-necked Modigliani painting or a very cool giraffe, especially when long hair can remain tucked inside the confines of the fabric.
Maybe it goes back to the idea we touched upon a few weeks ago wherein pop culture’s excessive saturation of the naked body has rendered us numb to nudity and therefore a covered up neckline is intrinsically more exciting.
Or, perhaps on a more Freudian level, there’s something to be said for the turtleneck’s similarity to the birth canal. I apologize for the visual but show me a woman who doesn’t feel as if she’s being born each time she presses her face through a turtleneck and I’ll show you a woman whose mother had a c-section.
Jessica Something-or-other’s words found themselves new life this past winter by way of my own friend Alex. I was inspired by Céline’s Fall 2012 stark white necks that stretched out from the confines of burgundy leather and fuchsia fuzz. Such styling was simplistic yet brave — simple because surely everyone owned similar elements and brave because turtlenecks weren’t exactly “back” — and then on a cold night when I had plans to meet a group of friends for dinner, I was feeling Phoebe-Philo-white-turtleneck-brave.
I entered the restaurant and took my coat off while fashioning my best “notice anything different?” gesture. I’d paired a white cotton turtleneck (a third grade relic) with a gray neoprene sweatshirt and I’m telling you that if you saw me you’d say, “Hey! That girl looks cool!” But instead, Alex asked me if I got dressed in a preschool teacher’s closet.
It was then that I found myself determined to prove the turtleneck’s worth. This, I somehow got into my head, meant extensive research on its history. I spent hours in the library with my head in books, scribbling notes onto scraps of deli napkins because the library had run out of computer paper. Unfortunately, I used the napkins to later blow my nose, which means I lost a majority of my notes and now have to rely on memory.
Never mind that, though. The turtleneck was born during the medieval ages. Knights were riding around in chainmail armor like it was the final hour of Comic Con and as a result developed rashes from the metal’s friction. Chaffed necks made it impossible to turn their heads quickly during battle, which meant an opposing soldier could — and would — turn it for them. A turtleneck worn underneath solved the chaffing issue (and separately offered an easier “knight to night” transition post-battle).
In the mid-sixteenth century Queen Elizabeth I of England drew upon the knighted turtleneck but blew it up to couture proportions by way of starched ruffles and dubbed it a “ruff.” I think nothing quite says “party animal” like a stiff, ruffled collar that was, in all seriousness, likely meant to cover skin irritations developed from a lack of bathing.
Covered throats remained the party girls’ anthem throughout the early 1900s, where Gibson Girls boasted high-necked dresses and also — fun fact — wore bustles to make their butts appear larger. Sign me up for that era, am I right?
Flapper girls threw out the turtleneck along with modesty as a movement, and either I fell asleep while reading the next few chapters or my retention capabilities are faulty but I’m fairly certain that the turtleneck didn’t see a true rise again until Diane Keaton was born.
Our history lesson for today can conclude right there because everyone knows Keaton owns the market on the covered neck. She’s the only one who has figured out how to wear one during the summer, and I’ll be damned if I don’t discover the key before I die.
During last September’s shows when it seemed every model had a covered-up throat, I texted my skeptical friend Alex, “The turtleneck is back.” And ha ha to you, Jessica Last-names-are-for-babies. I don’t have your cell number or else I would have texted you too. Ya hear me world? The turtleneck is back.
*For The Genesis of Ruffles, click here. Market work by Charlotte Fassler