When we first meet Ethan Hawke’s character in the 1995 romantic drama Before Sunrise, he’s wearing a scuffed-up maroon turtleneck. In conjunction with his goatee and butt cut, the ensemble, like Hawke himself, evokes a certain aspirational 1990s douchiness that is both exceptionally irritating and sneakily charming. This, I posit, is the turtleneck putting in the work.
Few items of human-shaped cloth exude such counterbalancing energies. The man who wears a turtleneck is the guy at the party you immediately judge negatively upon seeing, but he’s also the guy who’s likely to offer his place in the bathroom line to you when you’ve got the coke shits. He’s not an ally per se, but he’ll always hold the door open for a stranger. He only partially judges you when you forget to thank him.
The point is, there’s plenty of reasons for wanting to be a turtleneck guy: In the grand spectrum of shitty men, the turtleneck guy is Michelob Ultra — not the best, but hardly the worst. But of course, anyone who’s ever tried to don a turtleneck in public has also experienced the sobering feeling of putting one on and, after thorough examination in the bathroom mirror, realizing that it doesn’t quite sing the way a turtleneck does on the likes of Zayn Malik, David Beckham or Michael B. Jordan.
This predicament stems most commonly from the fact that you, turtleneck test case, are likely to be genetically predisposed to a double chin. Indeed, male fashion expert Rayne Parvis doesn’t mince words when I ask her about how to get over your dangling gullet for the sake of appearing a bit mischievous. “If you have a double chin, I would avoid turtlenecks,” she tells me.
At this point, you may give up. You may be thinking that Parvis is right: You’re not a turtleneck guy. But before reaching back into your closet in favor of your Vineyard Vines quarter zip fleece pullover, you should know that you’ve got history on your side. The turtleneck, despite its current iteration as a bourgeois luxury, stems from working-class origins. “First worn consistently in the 19th century, turtlenecks were pieces mostly for the working class due to their practicality,” reports The Good Trade. “The Navy, fishermen and other laborers wore this garment for warmth and protection.”
In fact it wasn’t until 1920, when the turtleneck was made popular by middle-class playwright Noël Coward, that it began its evolution into the sartorial equivalent of a person who drinks tea with their pinky out.
In its origins, then, the turtleneck is for every man, so if you choose to wear one in spite of your double chin, you should. Parvis’ suggestion to avoid looking like you’ve got a bag hanging from above your neck is to grow a beard that “can conceal a double chin and redefine a jawline.” In addition, she says, “One thing that really helps create a longer neckline is your posture. Sitting and standing up straight with your chin slightly out and up will help with wearing a turtleneck.”
So there you have it. The turtleneck, and its accompanying aura of stepping outside your sartorial comfort zone, can all be yours. All you have to do is stand up straight and occasionally use a word you can’t be sure you’re pronouncing correctly.