The Roll Neck

The roll neck jumper (or sweater to our American cousins) has become something of a forgotten item in the gentleman’s wardrobe. When I saw my good friend Barima wearing one recently, it reminded me how practical they are.

The vogue in knitwear has concentrated so much on the V –neck and crew-neck varieties that the ‘turtle’ has been rather left behind. It cannot be that it is perceived to be fussier, for the V and crew-necks require a shirt to be worn underneath and – in very cold weather – for a scarf to be worn, to keep the chill away. The roll neck, by comparison, is an all-in-one. In an age when even grown men with balding temples and facial hair are being tempted into lazy and infantile clothing like ‘onesies’, one would have thought the wintry practicality of the jumper-and-muffler-rolled-into-one would have appealed more than it has.

Provided the fit and material is right, roll necks are actually very elegant and can be worn with suits as well as casual outfits. In fact, I would argue they actually look better in a semi-formal ensemble than in a truly dress-down look, and are perfect for occasions when a smart jacket or blazer is still desired but a shirt and tie would be overkill. I am not one of those who believes there are many occasions when a shirt and tie would be overkill, but there are those who are looking for a more minimalist sophistication in style and who find the relentless daily decision of ‘which collar and tie’ to be an unnecessary complication.

One of the things that detractors point to is the restrictiveness of a roll neck;

“Once it’s’s on. With a V-neck or crew-neck, you can take it off when you’re too warm. You’d never wear anything appropriate underneath a roll neck to enable you to take it off.”

Another I asked about it agreed, but was more disgruntled with the unique element of the garment – the roll on the neck:

“If I have a scarf on when I’m cold, I won’t keep it on all the time. I don’t like the idea of thick material permanently surrounding my neck.”

These are both sensible points. I am not one of those who tends to remove items of clothing; once I am dressed, I don’t take anything off until it is time for evening ablutions. Others are less rigid in their routine. For those with stubbly, itchy necks it probably isn’t ideal, particularly if you select a material other than fine lambswool or cashmere. And, if you dislike the feeling of being ‘throttled’ by knitwear, the roll neck isn’t for you.

However, for those who do not share such concerns, the roll-neck provides an excellent alternative to a shirt and tie for a semi-formal winter ensemble. Combine a cashmere or lambswool ‘turtle’ with other textures for maximum effect: a velvet jacket, a patterned silk puff pocket-square and wool flannel trousers. Those with an allergy for 1970s sartorial aesthetics need not apply.