Turtlenecks (also known as polo or roll necks, or a skivvy) are getting ever more popular these days, which has led many guys to wonder how to wear a turtleneck sweater properly.
The good news is that the simplicity of the garment makes it relatively easy to pull off and take your winter wardrobe to the next level. However, there are a few things that you definitely need to keep in mind, to make sure that you wear it with aesthetic style and class, and avoid looking like a Steve Jobs wannabe.
This super in depth turtleneck guide shares my 8 best tips on how to wear a roll neck properly, including how a it should fit, how to style it, and how to match the colors, followed by a look book of 8 ways to style a turtleneck, to give you inspiration for your next awesome look.
How to Wear a Turtleneck
As a summary of the below tips, in every case, you should make sure that your roll neck garment:
- Has a good fit – isn’t not too tight, but also isn’t too loose.
- Is in a color that works with the rest of your outfit; either a neutral color that doesn’t clash with anything, or a color that works perfectly with all of the others in your look.
- Has the correct texture and fabric for the formality that you’re going for. Generally, the smoother and ‘less textured’ your garment is, the more formal.
Once you’ve got the above universal points pinned down, though you can wear a turtleneck with almost anything, they look best styled with:
- Any collared item – denim jacket, shawl cardigan, flight jacket or a collared leather jacket.
- A suit. Click here to jump to this section.
- A blazer. Click on this link to go to this part of the post.
- Medium – high formality trousers and shoes, such as chinos, and Chelsea boots.
To jump directly to the turtleneck outfits and styling, click here!
Now, let’s get into all of these points in greater detail.
How Should a Roll Neck Fit
Like most garments, the fit of the turtleneck is the most important part of making sure it looks incredible.
Even if you master all of the other points on this list, if your fit is off, you run the risk of looking sloppy – in any case, you won’t make as much of an impact as you would wearing a well fitting roll neck sweater.
- The actual roll neck shouldn’t surpass the top of your neck, and intrude on the underside of your chin, as it will likely be uncomfortable, and look too long – it should, however, be high enough to provide adequate neck coverage.
- The sweater should gently hug your neck to keep it firm and held up, but can be looser if you desire a more relaxed look. Turtlenecks that are too tight can sometimes almost choke you, so should be avoided.
- Your polo neck’s shoulder seams should hit where your shoulder ends, and starts to curve down into your arm.
- One of the most important areas of a turtleneck fit is the chest and body fit. Pinching from the front and pulling, I would recommend having around 2 – 2.5″ inches extra fabric in the torso, perhaps a bit less or more if you enjoy a tighter or looser fit.
- The sleeves should end just under your wrist bone. They shouldn’t extend onto your hands, or finish too far above your wrist bone.
- If you’re of average height, I would recommend that the hem should finish mid crotch. For taller gentlemen, you may want a lower crotch finish, and for shorter guys, a top crotch length may be preferable.
- The arm holes shouldn’t be cut too big so that, when you raise your arms, you produce wings. (Though it would likely come in handy if you were jumping out of a plane without a parachute). Similarly, they shouldn’t be so tight that they cut into your armpit uncomfortably.
- Your sleeves should be slim enough to be comfortable, but not cut circulation when you bend your elbow.
For points 2, 4 and 6, you have some individual interpretation:
- 2 – You may choose to have a looser neck, for a more casual or rugged feel.
- 4 – I enjoy a medium fit – not too loose, but not too baggy. Your desired aesthetic may mean you get yours slightly tighter, or looser.
- 6 – Taller gentlemen may see benefit from a longer torso length, and shorter guys may prefer a shorter length, to help with proportionality.
Overall, it should be tight enough so that it generally follows the natural lines of your body, but not too tight that it’s uncomfortable.
How Tight Should a Turtleneck Be?
You may be tempted to go for a super tight look – I would generally avoid this, unless you’ve got a lot of muscle that you want to show off, or want to be uncomfortable.
As stated above, it should be loose enough to allow comfort, and to stop fabric pulling, but tight enough so that the fabric doesn’t excessively sag.
To help you out will all of this, I’ve created a neat infographic that covers how a turtleneck should fit, which you can save for later and view at your leisure, or share with your friends!
Learn Which Color Turtleneck To Wear
Like t-shirts, as roll necks are such a simple item, the main thing that you can switch up is the color. In every case, they always continue to diffuse sophistication – but there are some colors that will work better than others in certain situations.
The One Roll Neck Color You need (The Neutral Base)
In my opinion, the quintessential turtleneck color is navy – simple, but deadly.
You might have though that this would be an easy win for the ‘black’ turtleneck, but it’s technically too harsh for most outfits and skin complexions, meaning it doesn’t work as well as navy for most people. Navy has a similar versatile function as black, but isn’t as harsh, so matches better with most colors.
In fact, I’ve written a helpful guide on how to dress for your skin tone, which explains why black isn’t frequently a good choice for most people, and gives you guidance to the colors you can wear to look your best.
You can use your navy polo neck to produce slick monochromatic looks, or to allow another signature pieces to shine (like in outfit one, later in the post).
In either case, a navy turtleneck is the prefect neutral base to build the rest of your outfit off of, as it doesn’t clash at all with many colors, and is inherently more formal due to its darker color.
If in doubt, wear navy.
Semi-Essentials (Other neutral bases, and ‘matching’ pieces)
Though navy is, in my opinion, the perfect roll neck colour, you can find turtlenecks in an array of other safe and easily wearable hues.
Examples of this include:
- Dark grey (Neutral)
- Light grey (Neutral)
- Dark green (Matching)
- Brown (Matching)
- Neutral colours such as light grey and charcoal act similarly to navy, in that they’re a versatile and neutral base piece that works for most outfits. If possible, invest in these first.
- Alternative ‘matching’ colours, such as green and brown, are best incorporated into outfits that have similar hues. For example, an easy way to wear the tobacco brown turtleneck sweater on the right is in an outfit with a brown jacket and trousers – though, if you knew how to combine colours, you could ‘match’ it in with other colours.
Regardless, they’re all muted, and will match with many pieces already in your wardrobe, without making you stand out too much.
However, they’re a bit more playful, adventurous and unique, but will definitely give you the ‘I can’t understand what he’s doing to look go good’ vibe.
But remember, the more colorful and lighter you get, the less formal – so, if you’re looking at creating a formal outfit, stick to your charcoals, dark greens, and (potentially), medium-light greys.
The Bold Colours (Other natural bases, and statement pieces)
On the other end of the spectrum, you have turtleneck colours such as:
- Ecru (Neutral)
- Orange (Statement)
- Red (Statement)
In all cases, they require a bit of confidence to pull off, and are more casual and less versatile, but allow you to inject some personality, sartorial expertise, and modern colour schemes into your outfits.
In the specific case of ecru (eggshell, off white), despite the statement that it makes, it’s still a really sophisticated and mostly formal colour that I would highly recommend looking into, especially if you wear a lot of tailoring, or slightly dressier ensembles. Like navy and greys, it provides a neutral base that won’t clash with many colours, but makes slightly more of a statement.
The only thing to note with finer ecru turtlenecks is that they are generally a bit transparent, as objects such as undershirts (and, eh, nipples) clearly show through. To combat this, make sure to buy an invisible undershirt, or look at investing in a thicker ecru roll neck sweater, perhaps with some texture.
For bright turtlenecks, such as bright red or orange, you, again, have to consider how it works with the rest of your look – though, I wouldn’t recommend going monochrome here! In this case, I’d tone everything else down, and allow it to be the centrepiece.
Again, if in doubt what colour would look best on you, this article I’ve written about the best colours for your skin tone will give you some solid suggestions, and explain what to look for in clothing colours!
Play Around With Texture, Fabric and Material
Aside from colour, experimenting with the texture and fabric of your polo neck is a great way to change up the function and formality of your look.
- Textured turtlenecks with thicker fabric are less formal.
- Smooth turtlenecks with finer fabric are are more formal.
Texture and Weave
You can find roll necks in a few different textures – some of the most popular are:
- Smooth (no texture) – Most formal
- Waffle knit – A ‘waffle’ like texture
- Cable knit – Most casual
As stated, generally, the more busy the texture, the more casual the piece becomes.
Turtleneck Material and Fabric Yarn
You also have a few choices when it comes to the material used for the fabric:
- Synthetics, such as polyester – Generally found in lower end polo necks, aren’t usually very breathable, and my be uncomfortable.
- Cotton – A good choice, though are usually found in more cost effective turtlenecks, and usually don’t produce as good of a look as wool fabrics. Easy to machine wash.
- Extra Fine Merino Wool – One of the most popular fabrics for turtlenecks, especially for your smooth textured, dressier choices. Generally, merino wool turtlenecks are still machine washable.
- Wool – Usually produces a slightly thicker and warmer garment than fine merino wool options, making them bulkier. They can be slightly scratchy, and aren’t usually machine washable.
- Cashmere – A luxurious wool fabric found in high end roll necks, known for its ultra soft and supple touch. Again, they are usually non-machine washable.
Each fabric has their benefits. But as a quick summary, the main three you should pay attention to are:
- Cotton – Usually cheaper, very easy to care for.
- Merino Wool – The supple slick classic.
- Cashmere – The luxury, harder to maintain, purchase.
The material used doesn’t have much of an affect on the piece’s formality, but generally, the more ‘luxurious’ you go, the more formal.
Though turtlenecks are usually comprised entirely of one of the above yarns, they can also be spun in alternate ways, to give specific characteristics to the fabric.
A few of the most popular are:
- Marling – Categorised by ‘streaks’ of two different yarn colours, such as charcoal grey and light grey, to produce horizontal lines in the fabric. Usually found in grey turtlenecks.
- Donegal – A type of Irish tweed categorised by up to eight speckled colours dispersed through a standard coloured yarn.
Switching these elements up can help your polo neck stand out from the crowd, and inject a bit of variety into your knitwear collection.
Everyone wears suits and ties – boring.
The good news is that one of the best ways to wear a turtleneck sweater is with a suit, giving you the opportunity to bring some more variety into your smart wardrobe.
The four main points you need to consider are:
- Make sure everything fits perfectly, so the chest fabric lays flat, and doesn’t bunch up (going back to point one!)
- If you prefer, remove your pocket square as I have done, to make the look as clean as possible. This isn’t necessary, though, and a simple pocket square with a presidential fold will generally work fine.
- Try tucking your polo neck into your trousers.
- The turtleneck colour should work with your suit.
Tucking Your Polo Neck Into Your Suit Trousers
As the idea of a suit is to produce as seamless of a look as possible, tucking your jumper in stops your turtleneck hem from visually breaking you up, and prevents it from peeking out from under the quarters of the jacket:
Now, from the above, you might decide that you prefer the right side – that’s totally acceptable, but I’d suggest to give it a try for yourself, and see what works best for you.
Turtleneck With a Suit Colors
When it comes to color, you have a couple of options:
- The first is to wear a turtleneck in the same, or similar, color as the suit, to produce a sweet monochromatic look. This option is a favourite of mine, and just radiates class.
- Alternatively, you can bring in other, contrasting darker colors, like the above navy, to switch things up, and make it slightly less stuffy.
- Or, if you’re a real boss, look at introducing a brighter color, such a ecru, or bright red, to stand out, and make a statement.
So, we’ve worn it with a suit, what next? Well, a step down in formality, with blazers and sports coats.
You can wear a turtleneck with a blazer by making sure that there isn’t excess fabric bunching in the chest area, and that the turtleneck colour works harmoniously with the rest of your outfit. Though it isn’t necessary, you may also want to tuck your roll neck into your trousers.
You’d most likely pull this combination out in the situation where you want to wear a smart blazer, but a shirt and tie is too dressy – think the staff party, or going out to a fancy restaurant.
But, as I’ve already briefly touched on, a lot of the same rules as wearing a turtleneck with a suit apply:
- You want a great fit, in both the polo neck and jacket.
- It’s more acceptable to introduce a funky pocket square here (with brighter colours, and interesting folds), as the look is inherently more casual and complex then when wearing a matching jacket and trousers. Though, like below, you can remove the pocket square for a more streamlined look.
Tucking Your Turtleneck Into Your Trousers With a Blazer
In this instance, I would say that tucking your roll neck sweater is in very optional, depending on if you think you’re going to be taking your jacket off often, and what sort of trousers you’ll be wearing:
- If you know you’ll be taking your jacket off, or if you’re wearing more casual trousers, such as jeans, then I would recommend to leave it untucked.
- If you’re wearing smarter trousers, then it’s your call – though, in line with the advice in the previous suit section, it will prevent the hem breaking you up.
Turtleneck With a Blazer Colours
In terms of colours, as these smart-casual outfits generally have more going on compared to suited looks, it’s all about creating harmony with the rest of the colours in the outfit.
Picking the perfect colour is down to common sense – if you’re wearing a brown jacket and trousers, any sort of tan/brown/burgundy turtleneck, or a neutral navy or ecru, will work really well.
If in doubt, you’ll usually be fine with navy, grey or ecru, as they provide a neutral base to work form.
How to Wear a Turtleneck With a Three Piece Suit (Waistcoat)
I’m personally not a huge fan of this, but I have seen people wear turtlenecks with waistcoats.
Given a supreme fit on both the vest and roll neck, you could definitely pull it off if you have a more flamboyant style personality.
To help you with this, I’ve written a great post on how to wear a waistcoat, which covers how a waistcoat should fit. In this case, the main thing you want to avoid is a visible gap between the trouser line and waistcoat, showing the turtleneck fabric.
The only problem is that, if you have well fitting waistcoat, the extra bulk of the turtleneck jumper may be too much to support, and as a result may pucker, and potentially pull on or damage the garment.
Though it can be done both casually, with an ‘odd’ waistcoat, and as part of a suit, I would personally reserve this for suiting, as I feel it comes off as a bit flashy and ‘tryhard’ if done in a casual setting.
Avoid the Mock Neck
A mock neck is a turtleneck that doesn’t turn in on itself, and has one layer.
I personally wouldn’t recommend this style, as it isn’t as insulating, and, in my option, doesn’t look as good as a proper turnback turtleneck.
How NOT To Style a Turtleneck
A common theme of all of the outfits in the next section is a collar – all of the casual jackets have collars, and the sports coats and cardigan have pronounced lapels, and collar fabric.
This helps to frame the polo neck properly.
I have tried to pair turtlenecks with jackets with flatter collars, such as bomber jackets, and it can look okay, though I feel they rarely look correct, and appear too ‘isolated’.
So, if in doubt, wear your turtleneck with a collared piece, and don’t style it with a collarless jacket or coat.
Styling a roll neck is generally easy, given that you follow the above tips.
The best part is that it can be styled casually, to very formally, making it a supremely versatile and wearable piece.
As a quick rundown, I would recommend staying in the middle-high formality bracket with everything when styling a turtleneck, meaning I would recommend you pair it with:
- Any jacket with a collar, such as the below faux suede jacket, and leather jackets.
- A suit or blazer.
- Medium – high formality trousers, such as chinos, flannels, or suit trousers.
- Medium – high formality footwear, all the way from white tennis shoes, to black Chelsea boots, to black wholecuts.
- Dark items if you’re going for a formal look, and lighter and brighter items if you’re wearing it more casually – however, this isn’t a hard and fast rule, as the style is very versatile.
The following section consists of eight awesome turtleneck looks to steal for yourself, or give you inspiration on how to wear a roll neck, all following the tips and guidance noted above.
Turtleneck Outfit 1 – The Winter Weekender
So classy. This look is inspired by ‘The Master’ Tom Ford’s ‘Six Rules of Style’ video collaboration with Mr Porter.
I absolutely love the cognac faux suede trucker jacket from River Island, which is the centrepiece of this look – it takes a would be monochrome outfit, and injects brown richness and into it.
On top of this, its cropped nature works with my trousers and boots to provide a clean leg line, and elongate my stature.
You’ll see the turtleneck, trousers, and boots again on this list, showing you how versatile a base they really are, and indicating that you should invest in a good pair of these items.
- River Island Faux Suede Trucker Jacket
- Navy Uniqlo Turtleneck Jumper
- Navy Next Premium chinos
- Black Samuel Windsor Prestige Chelsea boots. I’ve written a comprehensive review of these (£50!) boots here.
Roll Neck Sweater Outfit 2 – Very Suitable
Not this look again – yes, it’s the same as the one I used earlier in the post (I was too tired to shoot another one).
But it’s a great look – the navy turtleneck against the light blue suit provides a striking, but not overpowering, contrast. Given that both items fit well, it produces a sleek aesthetic appropriate for the fall and winter.
You can replicate this with almost any suit color, as the navy turtleneck is extremely versatile – a personal favourite of mine is some navy on navy action.
I’ve removed the pocket square to keep things simple, but you couldn’t go wrong with a white, or light blue pocket square.
For shoes, I would stay in line with the light/dark theme we’ve got going, and bring in some black Italian Wholecuts.
- Light Blue Textured Charles Tyrwhitt Suit
- Navy Uniqlo Turtleneck
Roll Neck Outfit 3 – The Green Guy
Personally, I don’t see a lot of green in menswear – and, when I do, it’s usually in a tie, or pocket square. Here, I’ve gone all out.
The green turtleneck, and green chinos, both in very similar shades, work together to produce a neutral base for the look, so the light green sports coat can take centre stage, and be balanced by a pair of medium tan brogue shoes lower down.
In my opinion, the result is incredible – I feel this looks so good, and it’s very refreshing to see a look that isn’t in blues, or browns.
- Green Uniqlo Roll Neck Sweater
- Suitsupply Green Herringbone Havana
- Charles Tyrwhitt Green Dressed ’24/7′ Ultimate Chinos
- Brown Charles Tyrwhitt Goodyear Welted Oxford Brogue Shoe
Turtleneck Outfit 4 – Aubergine Sports Coat, and Berry Chinos
This look is a perfect example of how to use the ecru turtleneck to pull an outfit together; the outfit is ordinary in styling, but interesting in colour.
Like the green look above, this aubergine herringbone unstructured sports coat, and these berry stretch chinos, act to provide a base to the outfit in a slightly more unusual hue.
These colours match well because they’re analogous (within the same ‘family’) and don’t match exactly, meaning you don’t look like you’re trying to piece together a makeshift suit.
Instead of brining in a similar colour turtleneck, we entirely break it up with the ecru knitwear, which is so neutral it complements almost all base colours. This outfit also mutes the shoes to allow them to blend in more, and give further precedence to the turtleneck, and pocket square pieces.
As this is a casual look in styling and colour, I have decided to untuck the turtleneck jumper.
- Ecru Uniqlo Polo Neck
- Charles Tyrwhitt Herringbone Aubergine Sports Coat
- Charles Tyrwhitt Berry Dressed ’24/7′ Ultimate Chinos
- Brown Charles Tyrwhitt Performance Shoes
- Retro TM Lewin Pocket Square
Turtleneck Outfit 5 – Brown Trucker
Probably one of the least versatile, and one of my least favourite, looks on this list, though still a decent one.
Again, I’ve kept this outfit in the analogous-monochrome look, brining in different shades of brown. We have the darkest chocolate brown layer on the outside, a medium tone conker brown base, and a light brown tobacco middle – a good recipe for a balanced look.
To finish it off, if you want to give precedence to the turtleneck, bring in brown or Oxblood Chelsea boots. Contrastingly, if you want to equalize the light colour in the jumper, consider brining in white trainers.
- Brown Uniqlo Polo Neck
- Next Signature Chocolate Brown Leather Flight Jacket
- Charles Tyrwhitt Conker Brown ‘Dressed to the Nines’
Polo Neck Sweater Outfit 6 – The Aviator
This next look gives me strong vibes of Steve McQueen’s ‘The Great Escape’ (1963), minus, of course, the vans.
The camel turtleneck works with the faux leather borg collar flight jacket to flatteringly frame the face, and truly keep your neck warm. On top of this, the outfit is fully broken into two, with a top ‘brown’ half, and a bottom ‘blue’ half.
The result is a look that cuts me in two – though I can deal with it as I am very fortunate to be of above average height, 5″11, I would recommend going for more streamlined looks if you’re a shorter gentleman.
The vans act to dress the outfit down, and allow me to wear this look to a very wide array of situations.
- Brave Soul Camel Turtleneck
- Steele and Jelly Faux Leather Flight Jacket
- Indigo Stretch Denim Jeans
- Navy Vans Old Skools
Turtleneck Outfit 7 – Winter Trucker
The last two outfits are both in navy monochrome, but go in vastly different directions.
The first is a ‘harsher’ and more rugged look, comprising of a indigo denim jacket, navy turtleneck, navy chinos, and black boots.
Again, the collar, either turned up, or left down, helps to frame my face, and make the turtleneck look flattering in the composition.
It’s a slightly more ‘bad boy’ and ‘urban’ look compared to the next.
- Mango Indigo Denim Jacket
- Navy Uniqlo Turtleneck
- Navy Next Premium chinos
- Black Samuel Windsor Prestige Chelsea boots.
Roll Neck Sweater Outfit 8 – Cosy Chap
This final look is exactly the same as the one above (even coincidentally by pose!), but swaps out the denim jacket for a navy knitted chunky shawl neck cardigan.
It’s extremely elegant, keeps you warm, and is unusual – I haven’t seen this particular combination done anywhere else, but I love it.
On top of this, as this is the third look on this list to make use of the navy roll neck, chinos, and black boots trio, it really solidifies the idea of having a neutral base, and proves my point that I believe everyone should own these three items.
- Navy Shawl Collar Cardigan from F&F (Can you believe it?)
- The rest is the same as above.
So, now you know how to wear a turtleneck.
It’s not hard, but you’ve got to make sure that you follow the rules to maximise the look.
As a very high-level summary:
- Make sure it fits perfectly.
- Ensure the colors work to pull the rest of the outfit together. Navy, greys, and ecru are all neutral, so match with almost anything. Alternate colored pieces, such as brown, are safe to match with an outfit in a similar pallet, but if you learn how to mix colors together, you can bring them into more varied and less monochromatic looks.
- If you’re looking to switch things up, look at getting a skivvy in a different weave, or material.
- Try a roll neck with a suit or blazer for a sophisticated look.
- Avoid the mock neck.
- Make sure your jacket or coat has a definite collar, to help frame your polo neck.