The mock neck

Friday, November 20th 2020
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I’m not sure about the mock neck. 

It’s been having a resurgence recently - everyone is doing one, from Camoshita to Loro Piana, Margaret Howell to Inis Meain. I can’t remember the last time a style of knitwear became so ubiquitous so quickly.

But it’s a slightly weird style. And by weird I necessarily mean unusual, as in you don’t see many people wearing them. It also means I don’t own one, so I don’t know whether it looks good or not. 

Without that experience, you turn to your style references: the people that have worn them through history, and as a result the people that other people will think about, when you wear one. 

For me those references are golfers (Tiger Woods in particular) surfers (starting in the 1960s) and Steve Jobs. Apparently there were some breakdancers too, but that wasn’t something I was aware of.

I don’t mind the surfer reference, but I’m not sure about the other two. And only Jobs’ version was long-sleeved. Plus it was black, tucked into pale jeans. Pretty shapeless jeans too.

Being unusual can be a reason enough for clothes to appeal to some. 

But it’s not usually what we’re aiming for with Permanent Style. We’re more interested in elegance and taste: in looking simply well dressed. 

So let’s try to break this down from a PS point of view. What are the advantages of a mock neck? 

Well, that higher neckline (than a crewneck) frames the face, which is usually good. It’s certainly the reason a roll neck (or polo neck, or turtleneck in the US) is flattering on many men. 

But you’d have to say a roll neck does it better. The only advantage of the mock neck is that it can be more comfortable. I know some guys don’t wear roll necks for that reason, although I do also think it takes time to get used to it - I used to be the same, and now it’s one of my favourite things to wear. 

You can also wear a shirt collar under a heavier roll neck, and avoid that issue without the shirt collar showing through. Or if you’re feeling very flamboyant, you can flip up the shirt collar and have the points sticking out the top of the roll neck, wing-collar style. 

The other nice thing about a mock neck is warmth, as it covers more of the neck. And that’s certainly a reason it’s popular in functional clothing, from wet suits to base layers. 

It’s also how I see the mock neck best worn - under an overshirt or similarly loose outer layer. Not on its own, and not necessarily with a tailored jacket. 

Although I wouldn’t wear the colour combination, I do think it looks nice on Aleks Cvetkovic in that manner, in this video we did together. 

Still, when it comes to warmth a roll neck still does it better. That might be too restrictive for surfing, or for climbing (ref. Drake’s) but not for just wearing around town under a coat.

Also, if the mock neck is being worn as a base layer, you really want a really fine knit, not the regular sweater weights most brands are offering. 

No, it feels like the only reasons to favour a mock neck, are that they are unusual and therefore interesting, or that you can’t wear a roll neck. 

Actually, one more - flipping the point about cultural associations on its head, I know there are some people that dislike roll necks for what they are reminiscent of (beatniks, philosophers, French people, French philosophers). Most of those people are women, actually, which should maybe worry heterosexual readers. 

So if you can’t wear a roll neck, or don’t like its associations, wear a mock neck. Plus maybe as a base layer. 

I don’t especially like how the mock neck looks on me in this shoot, though that’s perhaps unfair for two reasons. 

One, my Adam’s Apple seems to be make it look oddly pointed at the front. Never seen that on anyone else. 

And two, the jacket I’m wearing is from Anderson & Sheppard, and they always have a high collar. Which means the roll neck is sitting slightly underneath collar line, rather than above it. Were this a Neapolitan jacket, there would be a good half inch of clearance - more the line of a good shirt. 

The mock neck worn, by the way, is from Colhay’s, and is a lovely version for anyone that wants a mock neck. Beautiful deep, dark brown, neat cut. Though given it’s to be worn over a T-shirt, rather than a shirt, I would have liked it in cashmere rather than their lambswool. 

I do like this colour combination though: mid-grey checks, charcoal flannel, brown knitwear, dark brown shoes. It’s exactly the kind of sombre, subtle mix that particularly appeals to me right now. 

Perhaps I’ll try it next time with a polo-collar sweater, buttoned up to the top. That’s another style we’ll be looking into in an article soon. 

In fact there seems to be a theme here of neckline-related pieces. Following the Ciardi coat, the new Dartmoor, this article, and two more coming up. Plus there was this feature I wrote for Drake’s recently. 

I think it’s the combination of cold weather and a desire to dress down tailoring, by wearing knitwear underneath. As ever, any and all thoughts, points and alternative cultural associations are welcome. 

(I count Miles Davis as wearing a roll neck most of the time, by the way, rather than a mock neck. Yes, the collar was low, but it was turned over, folded down. A mock neck does not fold over.)

Clothes worn: Anderson & Sheppard bespoke jacket, Whitcomb & Shaftesbury bespoke trousers in Fox flannel, Cleverley bespoke shoes (ten years old last month - doing well).

Photography: Alex Natt @adnatt