Cult item: roll neck
By Will Morley, 4 December 2015
The roll neck has had its fashion ups and downs, from its origins as a workers' staple in the 1800s to its elevation to high society in the 20s when ‘it’ lad of the time, Noel Coward, copped one. Through the beatniks in the 50s and the mods of the 60s, to the 80s and 90s, when it took a swift nosedive as it was adopted by the likes of Steve Jobs, today’s version takes everything from the past and re-invents itself for a new generation.
There’s something a little 60s secret agent about a roll neck. All the Bond’s have shaken and stirred women in one, as did Michael Caine as Harry Palmer and both of the men from U.N.C.L.E. Pairing a polo neck with a rain mac and horn-rimmed glasses is going to nail a dope vintage espionage look, but don’t be afraid to bring your outfit into the present with some smart cuffed trousers and sock less, bleach-white kicks.
Don’t be afraid to depart from the easy, plain-black roll neck. Play with colour like you would with any other styles you rock. If you go for a sold block colour, the suit you match it with can be a bit more playful. Checks, plaids, herringbones and dogtooth patterns are all out there ready for you to blow peoples minds with. Make sure you tone it down with minimal accessories and perhaps stick to a simple notch lapel, rather than going full-on peacock with a double-breasted peak lapel show-boater. Made In Chelsea’s Andy Jordan gets it (even if his trousers are a smidge too long for him).
Hip-hop heads have always ridden with the roll neck – just check out the cover to Slick Rick’s Children’s Story single – and not always with the best results. For instance, in the Hotline Bling video, Drake’s oversized high-necked sweater, Timberlands and joggers make him look like he forgot he needed to get milk and – half awake – just threw on anything to go to the shops, then stumbled onto set. Luckily, Kanye picks up the slack for the scene by going relaxed, never sloppy, in a cream sweater, battered jeans and sand Chelsea boots.
Tinie Tempah hits the sweet spot between casual and formal by smartening up his combat boots, skinny jeans and camo mac with a sleek grey roll neck. And that’s the beauty of the high-necked sweater, it really does work with anything, adding balance to any number of sartorial opportunities. It’s one of those transitional (eye roll) pieces that can take you from a day's slog at the office to a couple of bevvies with the boys by a simple layer swap out – say, a blazer to a denim jacket.
As a push back against the idea that a formal gathering must always mean a shirt and tie, the roll neck is a solid option. It works for any body type, elongates the neck and lifts the face a little (selfies, yeah?). Matching your pocket square to the colour of your roll neck shows you’re really paying attention and wearing a chain on the outside, like Ed Westwick here, adds a touch of 80s playboy to the mix. We’ll call it the Hasselhoff effect, but the only thing missing from this picture is a 1982 Pontiac Trans Am and a Piña Colada with a sparkler.