The Return Of The Roll Neck

With autumn on the horizon, it’s time to turn our attention to the stylish pieces that will keep us warm throughout the colder months ahead. Picking up where they left off in AW12, roll necks are set to make an even bigger comeback this year after they were featured heavily on the AW14 runways.

From chunky knits to layer up in when the temperature drops, to fine gauge versions that make an ideal shirt and tie replacement, today we’re exploring the different types of roll necks available and what to wear them with.

We will also look at some of the ways designers have been giving this classic piece a contemporary update, including block-coloured designs and printed fabrics.

But first, let’s find out where the roll neck originated from and why it’s now considered a cold-weather style staple…

Origins Of The Roll Neck

Also known as a polo neck, turtleneck or skivvy, a roll neck is a jumper with a close-fitting, round, high collar that folds over and covers the neck.

Roll neck-like garments have been worn in Europe for centuries, although from the late 19th century onwards they were often only sported by athletes and sailors. That changed during the 20th century, when black roll necks became commonly associated with artists, intellectuals, poets and, of course, the beatnik movement.

This highbrow style of sweater was (and still is) often linked with chic European style – something we’re always happy to be associated with here at FashionBeans.

So, if you get the look right, you will be seen as an intelligent gentleman with a penchant for good taste and style. However, get the look wrong and you’ll more than likely fall into the ‘James Bond villain’ or ‘stuffy Geography teacher’ stereotypes that have also unfortunately become tied to roll necks over the years.

Now we know the garment’s roots, let’s explore how the roll neck can be integrated into a contemporary wardrobe. Starting with how they were styled on the AW14 runways:

On The AW14 Runways

Here in London, roll necks took centre stage within Pringle of Scotland’s AW14 collection, which had a distinctly modern look and feel. Utilising a predominantly monochrome palette, Pringle’s designs featured contrasting neck colours that highlighted this area of the knit and gave the appearance of a jumper layered over a roll neck.

The brand went on to explore this concept of silhouette further, layering a white light gauge version under a chunky off white cable knit to create a stylish and contemporary take on tonal dressing. The same roll neck was later worn underneath a buttoned-up navy pea coat with burgundy lapels.

Acclaimed tailoring house Kent and Curwen was another British brand that featured roll necks prominently in its AW14 collection, including an oversized cream knit teamed with a tan leather jacket and a black lightweight design worn with a contrasting sky blue blazer.

The latter look definitely got our vote – we love how a classic black roll neck can pare-back a bold jacket to create a striking yet refined ensemble:

Men's Roll/Turtle/Polo Neck Jumpers On AW14 Menswear Runways At Pringle Of Scotland and Kent and Curwen

Pringle Kent and Curwen

Elsewhere, Ami, Gucci and Balenciaga took a similar approach to Kent and Curwen, layering roll necks underneath cropped outerwear, while the likes of Armani, Brioni, Tom Ford, Fendi and Topman Design paired chunky knits in rich autumnal hues, contrasting textures and on trend patterns with neutral legwear, allowing them to take centre stage:

Men's Roll/Turtle/Polo Neck Jumpers On AW14 Menswear Runways

Giorgio ArmaniEmporio ArmaniTopman DesignFendiAmiBrioniTom FordGucciBalenciaga
How To Wear: Tie Replacement

Some traditionalists might still view it as controversial, but the roll neck has always acted as the perfect substitute to a traditional shirt and tie.

Designer Roy Halston Frowick was once quoted saying: “Turtlenecks are the most comfortable garment you can wear. They move with the body, and they’re flattering too, because they accentuate the face and elongate the figure. They make life so easy: you can wear a turtleneck to work and then afterwards throw on a jacket, and it becomes very dressy. You can go anywhere you like.”

With this in mind, we’re kicking off our styling advice with some suggestions that allow you to ditch the tie but remain looking sharp. The roll neck is the perfect piece to help achieve this, as proven by the likes of Balenciaga, Boglioli, Dior Homme, Gucci, Tom Ford and Vivienne Westwood on the AW14 runways:

Men's Roll Necks - Shirt and Tie Substitutes On AW14 Menswear Runways

BoglioliVivienne WestwoodPringle of ScotlandBrioniZ ZegnaBalenciagaDior HommeGucciTom Ford

If you’d like to try the trend out at work but haven’t dipped your toe into roll neck territory before, we’d suggest keeping it simple to begin with. Layer a well-cut grey blazer over a merino wool roll neck in charcoal and finish with slim-fit black trousers.

You’ll keep emphasis on your jacket while your ensemble remains chic and classic:

  • John Smedley Belvoir Merino Wool Rollneck SweaterJohn Smedley Belvoir Merino Wool Rollneck Sweater
  • He By Mango Herringbone Wool-blend BlazerHe By Mango Herringbone Wool-blend Blazer
  • He By Mango Slim-fit Tailored Cotton ChinosHe By Mango Slim-fit Tailored Cotton Chinos

If you were an early roll neck adopter and have already got this pared-back look down to a ‘T’, perhaps it’s time to step it up a notch when it comes to your formal wear. Depending on how relaxed your office dress code is, why not try out a coloured roll neck?

You don’t have to go all out in primary shades, although we certainly aren’t against it for those working in creative studios or advertising agencies. For the rest of us, why not explore colour while keeping your look sophisticated and refined?

Achieve this by opting for a rich hue such as burgundy, berry or khaki green. Not only are these shades perfect for autumn, they will effortlessly team with your current grey, navy or charcoal suits too:

  • River Island Burgundy Roll Neck JumperRiver Island Burgundy Roll Neck Jumper
  • Reiss Spear Two Piece Suit Dark NavyReiss Spear Two Piece Suit Dark Navy
  • Reiss Sorrell Toe Cap Derby Shoes Dark BrownReiss Sorrell Toe Cap Derby Shoes Dark Brown
Further Lookbook Inspiration

Men's Roll Necks - Shirt and Tie Substitutes - Outfit Inspiration Lookbook

house of fraser aw14f&f tesco clothingm&s best of british aw14zara editions aw13ovadia & sons aw14corneliani aw14reiss aw14drykorn aw14hugo boss aw14digel aw13tiger of sweden 2014reiss aw13
Other Ways To Wear

Once you’ve left the office (and the tie vs roll neck debate) behind, you can feel far more confident and comfortable rocking a roll neck this autumn.

An oversized, chunky knit in a neutral hue such as cream or beige will look great worn with your indigo jeans, while a style in an eye-catching colour will inject some life into an often dreary winter wardrobe.

  • River Island Cream Roll Neck JumperRiver Island Cream Roll Neck Jumper
  • Levis 511 Jeans In Dark IndigoLevis 511 Jeans In Dark Indigo
  • Grenson Sharp Leather Brogue BootsGrenson Sharp Leather Brogue Boots

For a more contemporary take on the trend, look to create outfits full of depth and texture by layering a roll neck underneath other knitwear or cropped outerwear, like we saw on the AW14 runways.

A lightweight design in a bold or contrasting hue can easily be neutralised with a black leather jacket or neutral chunky jumper/cardigan and will add an unexpected pop of colour to your look:

  • Brioni Fine-knit Wool And Silk-blend Rollneck SweaterBrioni Fine-knit Wool And Silk-blend Rollneck Sweater
  • Reiss Knowles Leather Bomber Jacket BlackReiss Knowles Leather Bomber Jacket Black
  • Allsaints Sodium Iggy JeansAllsaints Sodium Iggy Jeans

Finally, if you’re feeling extra daring this autumn, why not invest in a patterned roll neck? Prints are no longer the reserve of the warmer months of the year and, when worn properly, an interesting motif can really bring your knitwear or winter tailoring to life.

The key to styling a printed roll neck is to keep your bottom half plain and simple, as you don’t want to distract from the two trends you’re nailing on your top half. Nor will you want to overcomplicate a look that can already be quite hard to master:

  • John Smedley Miguel Fair Isle Fine-knit Merino Wool SweaterJohn Smedley Miguel Fair Isle Fine-knit Merino Wool Sweater
  • Reiss Tullum Heavyweight Twill Chinos GreyReiss Tullum Heavyweight Twill Chinos Grey
  • Common Projects Original Achilles Leather Low Top SneakersCommon Projects Original Achilles Leather Low Top Sneakers
Further Lookbook Inspiration

Men's Roll/Turtle/Polo Neck Outfit Inspiration Lookbook

massimo dutti october 2013lab pal zileri aw14debenhams hammond & co aw14zara editions aw13j crew aw14burton aw14burton aw14barneys new york august 2013gant rugger aw13reiss aw14drykorn aw14new look aw14
Key Styles
  • Asos Cable Roll Neck JumperAsos Cable Roll Neck Jumper
  • Ps By Paul Smith Jumper With Roll NeckPs By Paul Smith Jumper With Roll Neck
  • French Connection Commodore Cable Knit JumperFrench Connection Commodore Cable Knit Jumper
  • Allsaints Anjou Funnel JumperAllsaints Anjou Funnel Jumper
  • Topman Grey Merino Roll Neck JumperTopman Grey Merino Roll Neck Jumper
  • Allsaints Mont Cashmere Roll Neck JumperAllsaints Mont Cashmere Roll Neck Jumper
  • Austin Reed Merino Mix Roll Neck JumperAustin Reed Merino Mix Roll Neck Jumper
  • Next Roll NeckNext Roll Neck
  • Next Colourblock Turtle NeckNext Colourblock Turtle Neck
  • Moss London Slim Fit Navy And Wine Cotton Roll Neck JumperMoss London Slim Fit Navy And Wine Cotton Roll Neck Jumper
  • River Island Dark Mustard Roll Neck JumperRiver Island Dark Mustard Roll Neck Jumper
  • Folk Striped Knitted-wool RollneckFolk Striped Knitted-wool Rollneck
  • Austin Reed Twist Roll Neck JumperAustin Reed Twist Roll Neck Jumper
  • Berluti Waffle-knit Cashmere RollnBerluti Waffle-knit Cashmere Rolln
  • Etro Cable-knit Rollneck Wool SweaEtro Cable-knit Rollneck Wool Swea
Final Word

Many men are still intimidated by the idea of sporting a roll neck during the autumn/winter months. However, with this timeless piece making its second comeback in just a few years, it’s pretty evident that the roll neck isn’t going anywhere for the foreseeable future.

So what are your thoughts on this trend – will you be going all out Parisian chic for the new season? Are you considering adding a chunky roll neck knit to your casual wardrobe? Or will you be avoiding them altogether?

As always, let us know in the comments section below…