The cool and surprisingly feminist history of the turtleneck

Dec. 5, 2017

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The turtleneck has got one hell of a story, evolving from a utilitarian garment to one beloved by bombshells and revolutionaries.

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The 1800s: Utilitarian clothing, first and foremost

Before the turtleneck was chic, it was a warm, sensible garment for athletes. They were known as "polo neck" sweaters.

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They were functional garments, worn by (mostly) men, all they way up to their chins.

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The early 1900s: Gibson Girls co-opt the turtleneck

The turtleneck went from utilitarian fashion to a full-blown trend in the early 1900s, when dresses and blouses with a high neck suddenly became fashionable.

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The 1950s: Beatniks and bombshells take a shine to the turtleneck

The 1950s brought the turtleneck into mainstream popularity again, this time on a very different group of people: beatniks and bombshells.

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It became a marker for a kind of cool, edgy artist, which was further cemented in people’s minds when Audrey Hepburn wore a black one in 1957’s Funny Face.

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1970s: The turtleneck as a feminist statement

The turtleneck was adopted by people in rising political movements in the late ’60s and ’70s. Supporters of the Black Panthers often wore black turtlenecks.

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The 1980s to the 2000s: The turtleneck is uncool

In the 1980s, the turtleneck didn’t really fit in with glitz and shoulder pads, but it did show up from time to time on sitcoms like Saved By the Bell.

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The turtleneck had a rather unflattering cameo in the 2003 movie Something’s Gotta Give. Diane Keaton's was used as a metaphor for her caged-in sexuality.

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The 2010s: The turtleneckaissance

If a garment of clothing isn’t trendy one decade, it’s great the next. Now that ’70s-inspired clothing is chic once again, the turtleneck is having a comeback.

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