The roll neck

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The Spring/Summer collections may be arriving, but it’s 2 degrees outside in London, and I’m continuing a season-long love affair with roll necks.

The wonderful thing about a roll neck is that it is both very practical and very stylish; not many sartorial pieces fulfil both criteria so completely.

It’s practical because in cold weather a roll neck protects both the throat and chest. And because, being knitwear, it allows great movement than a shirt or jacket.

That also makes it great for travel.

On the style front, a roll neck succeeds because it looks smart, ‘dressing the neck’ in a similar way to a shirt and tie.

And because it frames the face. Framing the face is flattering, as any shirtmaker will tell you, in particular for anyone with an average to long neck (such as me).

Roll necks also have nice historical associations of relaxed, elegant chic. 

The downside of a roll neck is that it really looks best underneath a jacket or coat, rather than on its own.

This is particularly true with larger men, where a shirt gives them a flattering V-shaped opening and a long vertical line in the placket, but a roll neck presents nothing but a big, dark block.

Fine-knit versions are particularly unforgiving.

A roll neck is therefore best on a day when you will be outside more than in.

Or if inside, wearing a thicker model, perhaps with more vertical lines such as a rib or cable.

On the subject of different styles and weights, I tend to have two in a colour: one that is thin enough to wear under a jacket, and one that is not, really being a substitute for a jacket.

In the image above, I am wearing the thicker type - a ‘funnel neck’ style from Anderson & Sheppard.

This is chunky, short and ribbed, and can be worn folded down (in which case a shirt collar would show above it) or up, jutting against the chin.

In the latter case a close observer will notice the seams showing on the outside, but I don’t mind this in something so dark. 

In the second example, above, I’m wearing the lighter weight - a charcoal cashmere model from Drake’s.

This works under a coat, but is particularly good under a jacket. 

There is also perhaps a third category: an ultra-thin version that is aimed at being closer to the thickness of a shirt, something like a 30 gauge.

I have a lovely navy model like this from Edward Sexton, picked up in our pop-up shop last November.

Even I, being tall and slim, would think twice about wearing this weight on its own, however. Best under something else, including under another layer of knitwear like a big shawl-collar cardigan.

I know a lot of people find roll necks uncomfortable against the neck, particularly with stubble.

I used to as well, but find I’ve got used to them over the years.

I also sometimes wear a shirt underneath them (above), rather than a T-shirt, which means a collar sits between the neck and the wool. Unless the model is of the super-thin variety, the shirt shouldn’t disrupt the surface.

Finally, there is the Italian look of popping the collar of your shirt, so it sticks up out of the top. This is a bit too much for me, but if you can make it look like you’ve been doing it for years, it can look good.

If you do adopt this look, try to use a relatively small or cutaway collar, so the points don’t stick too far out.

Of course, given the time of year, there aren’t many roll necks available now.

Drake’s and Trunk don't have any (I'm wearing a Howlin' model from Trunk Clothiers in the navy watch-cap shot above).

However, Anderson & Sheppard largely eschews the seasons and has a few roll necks and funnel necks left, and Sexton actually has its on sale (£165 down from £275).

At its core, I think I love the roll neck because (like most menswear I love) it has a distinctive style without resorting to loud pattern or other extremes.

It is simply chic, warm and comfortable.

Other clothes pictured:

Photography: Jamie Ferguson @jkf_man except popped-collar shot, Street FSN

Last shot above: With Benedikt Fries of Shibumi

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Foussard

Just to add a further thought Simon…I love the association of the fine rollneck with 1960s chic…..Frank Bullitt,Illya Kuryakin…

Henry

Simon, do you prefer to tuck a sweater (for example John Smedley 30 gauge crewneck) in your pants or keep it outside?

Anonymous

Simon

Completely agree with you on the roll neck. I recently bought a slim cashmere version from new and Lingwood. Loved it so much that I went back and bought another two in different colours.

Burt

There’s also a producer called John Smedley 🙂
However it takes some time to find the right size in their jungle of slim fit, standard fit and easy fit. BUT then they also have roll necks in fine cotton. That again has proved to get wider with wear, so one almost has to size down from the wool model. But once you know….
They have some roll necks in their sale now.

Is Edward Sexton opening kind of a “brand store” on Savile Row or is that just a rumour?

Benjamin

What about wearing a fine gauge polo under a more chunky shawl collar cardigan? I think you may have discussed this before.

Also, will there be a future review of the Connolly drop-shoulder herringbone coat? It looks great!

Henry

Hi Simon, would you be able to tell me whos fabric Connolly used for the herringbone coat?

Alex

As it happens, I purchased a lovely cashmere roll neck from the Armoury’s Landmark store in Hong Kong three days ago; I’ve been pretty much living in it since returning to London.

Alan

I’ve always liked, and had at least one, usually black, roll neck in my wardrobe.
I recall that back in the late 60s there was a brief fashion for wearing rollnecks with evening dress. They were made out of shirt material and had a zip to compensate for the lack of stretch. I didn’t buy into that.

Anonymous

Whilst you may mention historical chic, don’t overlook the fact that the roll neck sweater was originally conceived as a layer of protective clothing, sometimes made with oiled wool, for those working in harsh conditions, such as mariners and farmers. Nothing chic about that.

Brian Fantana

Hi Simon,

I’m really sorry, its a great article but when I see the Connolly coat pictures, Isaac Hayes sultry voice comes into my mind, singing “Who’s the black private dick who is a sex machine to all the chicks…..”

Can you dig it?

Regards,

Brian

Raphael

N.Peal still has some good ones too

James

Nice article Simon. I agree that the roll-neck is best worn under a jacket. Perfect for running errands in, layered under a field jacket with jeans and boots. I bought a few from Cordings recently in a very soft geelong lambswool. Excellent quality and a very fair price point.

Luca

Hi Simon,
Very happy to read this as I am currently looking for a roll neck… Being very tall, slim and with long arms, is there any brand/model you could recommend? I am looking for something slim fitting (similar to the A&S shetland sweater). Thanks!

Ben

Amen

Mirko

I love the roll neck, I just do not understand when people put in inside the trousers like a shirt.

Stephan

Hello Simon,

an informative article as usual. And it is published as if on cue, because it is getting colder again. I received a fine roll neck in charcoal a few days ago. A medium blue (baltic blue) one I will send back, because I don’t think it is easy to combine. Or I am wrong? Beside the colour navy, which ones would you suggest also? Are there some rules to bear in mind how to combine their colours with jackets (e.g. sufficient contrast)?

Cheers
Stephan

H

Not burgundy or brown? Would you apply those colours as a general rule for starting a knitwear capsule collection generally?

Anonymous

Are these all color recommendations for roll necks or knitwear in general? What trouser combinations would mid-grey and charcoal roll necks go well with?

Simon have you heard of Todd & Duncan Cashmere and how they may compare to Scott and Charters?

Anonymous

I see — and T&D cashmere yarn are of solid quality? I’m planning to buy a sweater sourced from T&D, but am a bit hesitant to ask about the knitter, etc. Does it matter if I inquire? Are businesses very secretive about these things?

Anonymous

I see. Does it matter though where it’s being knitted?

Anonymous

But isn’t navy less versatile than mid-grey/charcoal then since navy sweaters really only go well with cream and beige colors for contrast? It looks quite watered down with darker trousers.

John

Hi Simon,
Indeed, a rollneck belongs to any good wardrobe. Also worth highlighting is that they could be surprisingly hard-wearing as the ones you have mentioned in your post or in the comments.
John

Anonymous

Great, thoughtful article – thank you. You covered all the bases on wear – I find it useful to have heavy and light guage and I find a shirt best under light guage – it sets up the collar and if too hot provides a better alternative than a T. As an alternative to the full roll over the ‘mock turtleneck’ (similar to a Guernsey – a high circular neck without the roll over) provides a great alternative being lighter and a better fit on shorter or thicker necks. As with another commenter I would love to see an article on the Connolly coat – nonchalantly, stylishly elegant and a great foil to the roll over – the weight, weave and most importantly collar cut look great on you (nice array of shots by the way).

QCH

Hi Simon, slightly off topic question. I know Anderson Sheppard sweaters come highly recommended. I was wondering whether the fit of their v necks and cardigans are more akin to their suits (drape cut) or more slim fitting with a clean silhouette like John Smedley sweaters, which are perfect under a jacket?

Thanks so much!

Darryl

Fantastic article.

I’m from Canada and roll necks (or turtlenecks over here) are a staple of my wardrobe. Merino wool for the milder months, cashmere for the winter.

Hans

Hi Simon,
Is that possible for you to produce roll neck sweater? I think it’s really essential in men’s wardrobe.

Hans

How about the extension of the PS finest knitwear? Really love the quality.

David

Simon,
You are very late to the party when it comes to this one.
Roll necks are also fabulous under corduroy suits and if the neck is loose, a neck square underneath is also a great look.
N Peal have some great roll necks. There Fumo grey is an absolute staple.
David

Anonymous

Am I the only one who finds it odd to wear a shirt underneath a turtleneck?

sunny

I have always worn roll necks but never with a shirt and even so it’s collar flipped up.But after reading this article I tried it o and guess what hat it looks so so good .
Thanks

Jack Green

I love polo/roll neck sweaters and have had a succession of fine cashmeres, as well as some thicker cableknit styles over the years. However, I find, after wearing only a couple of times, the necks become baggy and unsightly. I wear a 15 1/2 shirt collar (and do actually have a neck) but the appearance is so unsightly I soon stop wearing them. Am I an anatomical freak or does anyone else have this problem?

Chancellor

Do you have any recommendations on the height of the collar for a roll neck? I find most of the versions I try extend the full length of the next (i.e. right up to to the fold where my chin starts). I’ve wondered if it’s better for me to triple fold the collar so there’s a bit of neck free from the collar.

Ian A

What about wearing a rollneck with a suit? Is it better ‘suited’ to a Blazer odd trousers ensemble?

Anonymous

Regarding the Connolly coat. Which size are you wearing M or L?
Many thanks.

Martins Onzuls

Remember reading your piece for pwc about 2 most versatile rollneck colours being grey (for everything except grey flannels) and navy (for everything except jeans)…. But wouldn’t charcoal be like a happy medium? Better than navy with jeans and still ok with mid or light grey flannels?

Martins

Thank you!

Martins

I actually managed to snag last size 6 private white cashmere rollneck in a lovely bluish grey colour! Even though charcoal I would like more, this is sufficiently different from light grey for me! But Jesus it runs hot! Wore it shopping, had to take jacket off, and on the way home wore heavy shopping bag on the shoulder. And I could see piling marks under strap. Lesson learned! Cashmere pills easy! Any advice on how to deal with pilling? I’m assuming no matter how much I baby it, armpits, cuffs and collar will pill easily?

Anonymous

Do you have a link to the ‘pwc’ article mentioned Simon?

Do you still think that a mid-grey sweater should come before charcoal because it can be worn with more things? I think some of us might be drawn to charcoal because it can appeal as a quite a severe/monotone look. Thanks for your help as always

Sir Giaf

Hello Simon, great post!

I have a question. For my work Christmas do I want to wear a navy roll neck under a medium grey wool suit, provided that I intend not to lose the jacket at any point during the evening, would you think it is appropriate to wear braces over the roll neck?

Thanks in advance for your help!

Dan

Hi Simon
Could you tell my your size in the Edward Sexton’s rollneck?
Thanks in advance

Jason Leung

Hello Simon,
Do you wear a undershirt when wearing a rollneck? I feel that the garment you wear closest to your body is the one that needs the most vigorous laundering. However as we all known cashmere, wool doesn’t have to be washed after each wear.

Jason Leung

Glad I am not the only one wearing a T-shirt under rollneck! I got some other question, Do you wear a heat tech in the colder month? Or just a regular T-shirt/ and wear a scarf, a heavy coat…?
Do you consider Sunspel underwear T-shirt (£40.00)good money for value? I am currently mostly wearing Uniqlo Tshirt and would like to get some new one as they are getting pretty old.
I hope that’s not too much question for you, thanks ahead.

Anonymous

how does Merz b Schwanen compare to Sunspel for their T-shirts?

Anonymous

I’d thought you’d prefer the heavier more robust make of Merz? The collar part of the T-shirt is a big part of the shirt as well as the ends of the sleeves, aesthetic-wise and functionally.

Because after I wash my lighter T’s the collar tends to loosen and not maintain their round shape — any tips on that or brands that have that double cloth layer built in their models?

Anonymous

Hi Simon. As of today, if you have to choose just one navy roll neck sweater from your collection to keep, which would it be and why?

I ask this because I am deciding between Bryceland’s, Drake’s and Private White’s (I realize the first is lambswool while the other 2 are cashmere, so not a direct comp) and I think you have all three. Your help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Anonymous

Hi Simon,

I wonder whether you can help me with an issue. I want to buy my first cashmere roll neck sweater. I am between Private White’s and one sold by Cavour. It’s hard to tell from the pictures whether there’s any meaningful difference between them, but the one Private White from Private White is said to be 5 gauge while the one from Cavour is 12 gauge.

Is this a noticeable difference? What would you choose? Thank you in advance.

Anonymous

Thank you very much. In your experience, is 12 gauge too fine, so as to prevent it from being worn on its own rather than under a jacket or overcoat?

And, also, could/would you wear your Private White one under a tailored jacket?

I guess I’m looking for the most versatile option. Thanks again.

Mbb355

Simon–I love the idea of darker roll necks, in navy and charcoal for example. But I like roll necks best layered under a jacket. Just like darker shirts are harder to layer under jackets, I find the same true of darker roll necks. It sounds like you disagree, as you note that your charcoal Drakes roll neck works best under jackets. Can you provide guidance on how to pair darker roll necks with jackets, and perhaps also an explanation as to why dark roll necks work well under jackets while dark shirts tend not to? Thank you for any advice on these subjects, and for the great article as always.

Mbb355

Yes of course, I’d definitely be interested in reading. Thanks!

Alessandro

Hi Simon, I already have roll necks in navy, dark green and cream; next I was looking to add a black one. So I would like to ask if you think it would be an interesting addition and what would you wear with it.
Thank you

Marc

Hello Simon

My rollneck love affair has been going on for at least three years now. I enjoy them in various weights. However, my wardrobe is very casual – think jeans, cotton trousers, peacoats, wax jackets. Everything goes very well with mid weight or heavy weight rollnecks, but I am unsure about the light weight rollnecks you also mention in your article above. I always feel like they can’t keep up with the character of my wardrobe. For example: denim, a lightweight rollneck and a wax jacket – the rollneck feels a bit too “weak” against the other two materials.
What do you think about that particular context?

Cheers,
Marc

Marc

Good to hear your thougts on this matter, thanks Simon.

Teo

Hi Simon,

In your experience, when it comes to chunkier roll necks, should one err towards a looser fit compared to, say, a finer gauge crew neck?

I snagged a Saman Amel cashmere roll neck from Mr. Porter but I’m having trouble determining which size suits me. I like the fuller chest and arms shape of size 50 as opposed to a 48, however, this comes at the expense of more length in the body which inevitably pouches up above the ribbing a bit more than desired.

Looking at the photos in the article above I certainly see you wearing fuller shapes with the funnel necks from Howlin and A&S – would that be something you recommend over a slimmer silhouette?

Best,
Teo

Teo

Thank you very much Simon, I was leaning towards the bigger one as well. Something about the fitted look of the small one on the arms and chest put me slightly off.

What’s your go-to knitwear alterations specialist in London? Or perhaps Saman Amel themselves could help if it’s one of their pieces?

Tony

Hi Simon, I’m in love love love with the herringbone coat! Would you think about bringing it to the PS shop in time to come? That’d be nice because: 1. Finding the fabric is hard and 2. A lot of your overseas readers are not confident in their local tailors. Thanks!

Martins

Simon please stop! my wallet won’t take it! 🙂 this year I need your wax walker. and probably next year Donegal cloth will again be different…

Tony

Looking forward to it Simon! Will it be a double breasted? How much will it differ from the Connolly one? Thank you.

Zy

On this point Simon, is it possible to get this coat MTO from PWVC? Even if in a different tweed/cloth? Thanks!