The Turtleneck – The Chic Symbol of Power

I grew up in Evanston, Illinois in the 60s and 70s. Not the fashion capital of the world, but not the middle of nowhere either. I didn't think much about what I wore – jeans to school and tennis clothes to practice was the extent of it. It wasn't until college that the idea of a personal style or uniform occurred to me as a subject worth musing on. That's when I first discovered the turtleneck.

"It wasn't until college that the idea of a personal style or uniform occurred to me as a subject worth musing on. That's when I first discovered the turtleneck."

The Turtleneck

Falling in love with the turtleneck was easy.

Armed with babysitting money made during high school, I headed out to shop in Harvard Square. Denim painters pants were the rage when I was in high school (Class of '77), so I had one foundational piece. Wandering into The Gap, I spotted a white cotton turtleneck and fell in love. Little did I know I would live in it for the next decade (um, maybe longer . . .).  Good mood, terrible mood, under a blazer with chinos, with my painters pants or black jeans, I felt confident, assured, somewhat defiant, and immediately stylish. At a certain point, the turtleneck was not wearable anymore, and, while it popped into my thoughts from time to time, lawyer clothes and athletic gear were my focus for several decades.

A couple of years ago, my brilliant head designer (Azita Sheridan) and I were noodling about what new styles to add to the next CALLIDAE collection.  I don't know which of us said it first, but we both immediately loved the idea of launching a turtleneck. After a flurry of prototypes, we were happy and put it into production.  And the love affair started all over again.


How The Turtleneck Became A Symbol Of Female Empowerment

While its roots are purely in protection, the turtleneck has become a chic symbol of power.  In the 19th Century, the turtleneck was developed for polo players and largely worn for utilitarian purposes by sportsmen, sailors, and soldiers – and definitely not women. The earliest spotting of turtlenecks on women is in a photograph of the Wellesley rowing team in the 1890s (with long skirts of course!). In the mid-1920's, men starting wearing turtlenecks for form as well as function and it started what would be its long run as the darling of the creative intelligentsia.

Society frowned upon women wearing such utilitarian garments, but, luckily for us, some of our rebellious sisters were unconcerned with that convention. Marlene Dietrich – known for her daring androgyny – wore frequently and was photographed in a black turtleneck in the 1930s.  But the explosion of the turtleneck's popularity was not until the ‘50s when a slew of famous and glamorous actresses, artists, and musicians all adopted the look.  Audrey Hepburn started wearing it in 1957’s “Funny Face” (and never stopped).  Marilyn Monroe coupled a black turtleneck with white capri pants for an iconic “Life Magazine" shoot in 1953. Associations with French artists – moody, chic, deadly serious – earned the turtleneck an underground credibility.  For the next two decades, it was worn by everyone from Joan Didion to Angela Davis to Gloria Steinem.  It was around this time that I discovered and adopted its subversive, cerebral sensibility.

If I'm being honest, when we decided to launch The Turtleneck at CALLIDAE, I wasn't consciously focused on its subversive or cerebral associations.  I was thinking more about how immediately chic and confident and comfortable I felt when wearing it, and how beautiful it was in our UPF50 Italian jersey. And how much I thought our clients would love it. If you haven't yet, give The Turtleneck a whirl.  Whether you want to be chic, subversive, or just incredibly comfortable.