Menswear’s ebb and flow may not be as mercurial as womenswear’s sometimes tidal seasonal shifts, but we get our fair share of difficult trends (kilts, anyone?). And sometimes style and practicality are so hopelessly off-kilter that finding something that a) looks half-decent and b) is genuinely easy to wear, is just asking too much.
So, when something like the roll neck jumper starts appearing in designer collections and magazine spreads, it’s a breath of fresh air. This modern wardrobe staple has all the comfort of a crew neck, but looks considerably smarter than one. While it may be the Marmite of knitwear, its star is in steady sartorial ascent. Roll with it.
History Of The Roll Neck
Before the Milk Tray man, before the decade that fashion forgot (that’s the 1970s, in case you were wondering) and before Steve Jobs, the roll neck jumper came to exist as a stylish way of staving off the cold. The garment’s exact origins are murky, but the general consensus is that it sprang up at some point during the 15th century. Which means this natty piece of knitwear has been around (in one form or another) for an impressive 600 years or so.
Like much of menswear’s clothing canon, the roll neck was born out of utility. As naval officers enjoyed its neck-swaddling insulation all those years ago, so too men today appreciate that same hug of fabric when faced with a chilly commute or an overenthusiastic blast of air con.
Following on from its utilitarian origins, the roll call of roll neck devotees expanded into a more civilian context; there were academics and professors, poets and philosophers, and playboys and prepsters, all of whom found solace in the design’s northward creeping neckline.
But probably the most important milestone in the knit’s recent history is the moment it went from the sidelines to bona fide wardrobe hero. It was 1968, a time when the roll neck had all the sartorial star power of a pair of Crocs. Enter Mr. Steve McQueen as the straight-talking police detective Frank Bullitt in Bullitt and, suddenly, every man is clamouring to add one to their collection.
Roll Neck Renaissance
Of course, it hasn’t always been plain sailing: we’ve seen our fair share of roll neck fails over the years. But don’t let others’ mistakes put you off – now the time is right for the roll neck to rise up once more.
“Roll necks are such a versatile staple for a man’s winter wardrobe,” says Alex Field, Head of Menswear Design at Reiss. “They offer that Steve McQueen ‘man’s man’ feel that’s always appealing, but also provide the modern, refined look that men want right now.”
Male model and photographer Christopher Millington agrees: “The roll neck jumper is a timeless classic thanks to its versatility and the fact that it’s extremely comfortable. Right now, I’m definitely pro-roll neck.”
Still not convinced this knit is kosher? Just take a hint from some of this season’s most important collections: Balenciaga took the roll neck to its chin-grazing limits; while Bally was so enamoured of the knit that it featured in each and every one of their AW15 looks.
Know Your Gauges
Finally warming to this refined, draft-excluding design? Then get a grasp on your gauges – that’s the number of stitches per inch of fabric – before you add to basket.
Lightweight and form-fitting, a fine gauge roll neck is the ideal piece to slip beneath a whole wardrobe’s worth of cold-weather staples. Want a less fussy, far more comfortable alternative to a shirt and tie? Wear one of these with your tailoring instead. Or try layering one under a leather biker jacket for a faultless up-down combo.
The not so wonderful news? There’s nothing like a second-skin layer of fabric for highlighting the fact that you’re a card-carrying gym-dodger. Stay well clear of fine gauges if you’re carrying a few extra pounds.
Less risky is a heavier gauge, which can do a world of wonders for the exercise-intolerant. Arms in need of an inch or two? Stomach spilling out over your waistband? There’s no end to the body woes a meatier gauge can conceal.
What’s more, a heavy gauge knit’s bulk makes it the ideal canvas for experimenting with texture. Which means, if you’re a fan of cable, waffle or rib knits, then heavy’s arguably your best bet.
Mango Man November 2015
Similarly, you’re pretty much spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing a fabric this season. If you like the finer things in life, opt for a roll neck in 100 per cent cashmere. Or pick up an extra fine merino style to take advantage of this material’s temperature-regulating properties. Finally, if you want something a little more rugged, try a heavy sheep wool weave.
The main thing is that your roll neck’s made from wool. Steer clear of designs in man-made materials at all costs; if it wouldn’t look out of place in Bradley Wiggins’ race day wardrobe, it most certainly has no place in yours.
John Smedley AW15 Merino Wool Roll Neck
Ways To Wear
Part of the reason we’ve unfairly cast roll necks as wardrobe villains for so long is the misconception that they’re impossibly difficult to style.
Not so, gentlemen. Just this year we’ve seen Daniel Craig show how it’s done in Spectre, while Armie Hammer wore it well in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. “Roll necks look sharp under a blazer and forgo the need for a shirt and tie combo, but they also have the ability to be worn in a more casual way too,” says Field.
If you’re new to this knit, dip your toe by trialling it off-duty – after all, it’s easier to endure a ribbing over your ribbed roll neck in the company of friends rather than colleagues. You’ll want to aim for the smart-casual end of off-duty, though, so that’s a no to teaming a roll neck with sweats and Timberlands in an homage to Hotline Bling.
Instead, pair a chunky, heavy gauge style with a pair of slim indigo jeans and leather Chelsea boots. Or layer one underneath a pea coat for a no-fail winter look that nods to the jumper’s naval history.
Once you’ve got off-duty styling down pat, try introducing a roll neck to your tailored outfits. For a casual Friday ensemble that can live outside the office too, combine a neutral-coloured fine gauge style (shades of grey and beige work well) with a heavyweight blazer, slim dark jeans and some brogues. Or try livening up a navy suit with a cream or burgundy cashmere roll neck.
Did we mention it’s also the perfect way to tackle festive parties without having to truss yourself up in a tux? A grey roll neck will make a handsome companion for a black velvet blazer, black tailored trousers and black patent slippers. It’s a little bit louche but a comfortable distance from Hef’s mansion-lounging looks.
From the classic full roll neck to the mock neck to the subtle high neck jumper, there’s bound to be a style that suits you and your body type (read: neck length) this season.
Household name Marks & Spencer is a master of function, so it’s no surprise that the high street chain’s well-honed offering boasts plenty of designs that will slot into the modern man’s wardrobe with little fuss. Meanwhile, Reiss’ AW15 collection is effectively a tribute to the roll neck’s versatility, featuring everything from elegant cashmere designs to all manner of interesting fabrications and weaves.
If you’d rather take a more minimalist route, make a beeline for Swedish brand Cos. And those looking to spend a little more for superior knitwear heritage should try John Smedley – the British brand’s luxurious designs in cashmere and merino offer true value for money.
- M&s Collection Polo Neck Jumper
- Reiss Observatory Merino Rollneck Jumper Charcoal
- Merino Roll-neck Jumper
- Norse Projects Marius Wool Knit
- Uniqlo Extra Fine Merino Polo Neck Sweater
- Acne Studios Joakin Roll Knit
- Topman Premium 100% Merino Burgundy Roll Neck Sweater
- John Smedley Belvoir Rollneck Merino Wool Sweater
- Ted Baker Rinko Wool And Cashmere-blend Roll Neck Jumper
- River Island Navy Stripe Block Colour Roll Neck Jumper
- He By Mango Turtleneck Wool Sweater
- Ami Slim-fit Merino Wool Rollneck Sweater
- Reiss Jefferson Chunky Rollneck Jumper Midnight
- He By Mango Cable-knit Wool-blend Sweater
- Topman Navy Cable Roll Neck Jumper
- Gant Rugger Ribbed-knit Rollneck Sweater
- J. Crew Lambswool Rollneck Sweater
- Hackett Cable-knit Wool And Cashmere-blend Rollneck Sweater
- He By Mango Cable-knit Wool-blend Sweater
- Zara Polo Neck Sweater
- River Island Ecru Chunky Roll Neck Jumper
- Barbour Edderton Roll Neck
- Howlin Moonchild Roll Neck
- Suitsupply Blue Turtleneck
So, has the roll neck returned to form or has the design prematurely come out of retirement? Will you be steering clear this season or could you roll with this knitwear classic?
Let us know below.