22 November 2013

An Elusive Basic

I've managed to gather quite a collection of clothing over the years through thrift shopping and bargain hunting, and am happy top have arrived at a point where I feel that my wardrobe is well stocked with qaulity items that should last me for years. I think it's safe to say that I have most bases covered as far as having appropriate clothing for any occasion: navy and dark grey suits for somber, serious times; tweed, corduroy, and flannel for semi formal day wear; bright colors and light fabrics for jaunty Summer moments; and denim, sweaters, tennis shirts, etc. for the business of living 90% of normal life in the modern world. But one thing that has always eluded my grasp has been a good turtleneck or two, for that nebulous style sweet spot that exists between a tweed jacket and tie and outright full casual. That is, until recently.

The reason I had yet to find a good turtleneck wasn't really scarcity. There are in fact plenty to be had out there in thrift shops. The problem was more specific than that. Turtlenecks come in a variety of fabrics and styles, and they aren't all flattering on all men. Finding a type that works hasn't been easy. The most prolific are the cotton jersey knit types, available in every color imaginable. While there is something to be said for the rugged New England look of a soft cotton t-neck under a plaid cahmois or Viyella shirt,especially while shovelling snow or chopping wood,  it's not a look I can pull off. Worn alone under a jacket, I find this type to look too much like underwear.

Then there are the full blast sweater types. Big and thick and at best made of wool, these can look great with jeans, cords or flannels and a Barbour jacket or even casual overcoat, (like so) but they tend to be too thick to wear under a sports jacket. And good luck finding one that isn't thickly ribbed (I hate ribbed sweaters (unreasonable bias: ed.)). 

I find, the best and most useful expression of the turtle neck to be something of a hybrid of the two styles. The one pictured above, recently found at a thrift shop for $ 5.49, illustrates the point perfectly. Knitted of soft lambswool, it's technically a sweater, but a very thin one. It fit's close enough to keep me warm, but doesn't wear hot indoors. One of the problems in wearing a t-neck can be that they tend to make you look half dressed worn alone, so I prefer to wear one when I can leave my jacket on throughout the day. The neck fits close and high, and is ribbed finely to allow for movement. I was lucky enough to find the same one in camel tan at the same shop for the same price. Other good color choices would be hunter green and cream, not white, the kind of colors that go with a good tweed. (makes me wish I had kept this. Sigh)
It's nothing particularly special, only from J. Crew, but it's soft and fits well. In fact, this is the sort of thing I'd even consider picking up new in an end of season sale if I found it. 

I think a sweater like this provides a nice change of pace, and offers a good way to wear tailored clothing without being "overdressed", which can be a good thing for guys like me who hardly ever find themselves in situations that actually require tailored clothing. Oddly enough, I received more compliments, and the inquiries as to "why are you so dressed up?" were higher than they are when I wear a tie. Many people immediately equated it with British-ness. I'll take it.

p.s. photos of Steve McQueen in "Bullitt" noticeably absent. I think we've all seen enough of him for a good, long while, don't you?

13 comments:

Redcoat said...

Thank you for the positive comment about Britishness; we like Steve McQ as Cooler Hilts in 'The Great Escape', though apparently he did make other films. He does this thing with a funny ball...

Nick said...

For true "British-ness" we call 'em "polo=necks". I love them all - thick, chunky and cabled through to fine thin merino. With jeans, with Barbours - with a good duffle or pea coat.

My favourite is my Submariners Jumper -- MoD made, Silvermans purchased, and it keeps me warm as you like on the football terraces. Up the Mariners!

David V said...

Big fan of T-necks since David McCallum in Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Brent Kryda said...

True, Nick. With an oxford over top they almost look like a faux cravat.

Jakob Gajšek said...

Excellent find!

Ian said...

Ha! I always cite McQueen-Bullit if anyone questions my turtle neck. It's a tough look and I do always feel a bit costumey in it.

Chens said...

On the 14th you wrote that you were "rugged enough," but now you say you can't pull off the "rugged New England look" of a simple turtleneck under a plaid shirt.

And yet, Thurston Howell, you're comfortable you can pull off ascots and double-breasted blazers?

Got it backwards, methinks.

Pigtown*Design said...

I found two great men's t-necks the other day. $3.99 each. One from Neiman Marcus and one from Saks.

Giuseppe said...

Chens,

What I actually said was that it's fun to take my kids to the woods sometimes, and that I don't personally care for a turtleneck and flannel combo. I like ascots and picnics. Guess my personality has more than one dimension or something,methinks.

Gary K. said...

Seen enough of Steve McQueen by now?! Bite your tongue.

Giuseppe said...

Also,

You can go and write all the posts you want to incite the curmudgeons to a self congratulatory complaint fest on your blog. That model seems to be working for you lately. I won;t have it here.

Young Fogey said...

I think that the person posting as "Chens" is not actually Mr. Chensvold. I read his blog, and his command of English is much better than this "Chens" character. I have seen non-Chensvold-like comments from "Chens" on other blogs as well.

Perhaps someone with an axe to grind is trying to smear Mr. Chensvold's reputation.

schpaedu said...

I have worn cotton turtlenecks in winter for decades, mostly under a shirt. My favorite combo is an off white turtleneck under a tucked-in plaid flannel shirt. Indoor I leave just the top button open, whereas for outdoor I usually wear the shirt buttoned all the way up, the turtleneck either peeking a little bit out of the fully buttoned collar, or completely hidden underneath.