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The Knack

The Man’s Guide To Wearing A Rollneck

Five ways to incorporate this versatile and flattering piece into your wardrobe – for smart dress, casual and every occasion in between

The rollneck or polo neck (the terms are interchangeable) sweater has a high, close-fitting neck that is worn folded over – a high neck that doesn’t fold is called a turtleneck – and dates back to the Middle Ages. Traditionally it has been worn casually, though the likes of Sir Noël Coward started the trend of wearing them as a more formal piece in the 1930s.

The style was initially considered as an act of defiance against traditional dress codes – and caused maître d’s in top restaurants around the world to have heart attacks (or to keep shirts and ties in their cloakrooms). The US Esquire columnist and author Mr John Berendt described it “as the boldest of all the affronts to the status quo”, even claiming it was redolent of U-boat commanders. Today, however, it is largely seen as an acceptable and less fussy alternative to the shirt and tie in all but the most formal of occasions, acceptable when worn with suits or as a twist on the traditional black tie. A great advantage of the rollneck is that it is both comfortable and flattering, elongating the face and helping to hide incipient double chins. But a secondary benefit is that there is a plethora of ways you can wear it. Scroll down for our favourites.

01. How to wear a rollneck under a shirt

As a nod to a 1970s playboy look, wear a fine-gauge fitted rollneck under a dress shirt as an alternative to a tee – or a tie. Experiment with contrasting block colours – patterns may end up looking fussy. Under a white shirt, go for darker colours such as black, navy or burgundy. Deeper shades of green work well, too. With chambray and darker shirts, try cream or off-white underneath. If you want to make a statement, you could wear a fine gold chain outside the rollneck.

For office wear, go for a classic spread collar and keep the top two buttons undone to keep the neckline clean. To avoid getting all bunched-up around the waist, make sure both the rollneck and the shirt are fitted, and pull them down before doing up your trousers – you may find that pleated styles are more comfortable than flat-fronted with this look. In true 1970s style, think about pairing this with a double-breasted blazer, but again make sure the sweater and the shirt are fitted as you will be adding an extra layer of material around your middle. If you are concerned about your waistline, single-breasted blazers work just as well. If you want to avoid too many layers, a single-breasted tailored coat cut to above the knee will work well as an alternative to a jacket.

Get the look

  • Z Zegna TECHMERINO Wool Rollneck Sweater

  • Mr P. Selvedge Cotton-Chambray Shirt

02. How to wear a chunky rollneck

Wearing a chunky-knit rollneck is one of winter’s greatest pleasures, whether it is in luxurious cashmere or as a classic Aran, that most stylish friend of the fisherman. A heavy knit looks best worn casually, twinned with jeans and under either a leather jacket or, as a nod to  maritime tradition, a navy peacoat. (Though if the weather is warmer, you might want to consider a denim jacket instead). Twin the look with a suitably substantial pair of shoes – motorcycle boots work particularly well.

The advantage of cashmere is that it feels great against the skin, while you may want to wear something underneath a Shetland or merino wool to keep you comfortable. One disadvantage of the chunky knit is that it can do its job too well, and if you walk off the street into a centrally-heated space, you may feel like melting. So, if you think you might want to take it off, you will have to consider what you wear underneath. Luckily, because a chunky knit should never be body-hugging, you can get away with wearing it over a shirt – a button-down collar is ideal as it will keep the neckline looking clean.

Get the look

  • Ralph Lauren Purple Label Cashmere Rollneck Sweater

  • Acne Studios Chad Wool and Cashmere-Blend Coat

03. How to wear a rollneck for a black-tie event

Now that red-carpet rules have been relaxed, a rollneck is a great way to shake things up if you don’t want to wear a bow tie to a black-tie event. The clue to making this work is in the name, so a black rollneck is your best bet, and always choose a fine-gauge knit. The look is minimal so you can play around with a statement tuxedo rather than having to stick to a traditional dinner jacket. Velvet works well with a rollneck – bottle green is particularly stylish as black can look dusty under artificial light. Blues and burnt oranges are cool, too. Or you could go for an eye-catching patterned jacquard or brocade. Simple shawl collars work particularly well. Don’t wear anything under the knitwear as this will be very obvious under artificial light, so go for a piece that feels comfortable against your skin.

Trouser-wise, think traditional with a satin trim, though these don’t have to be black. But do try to match your socks as closely as possible to the colour of your trousers. This looks more elegant and will help to make your legs longer – like the rollneck, socks should be fine-gauge so they don’t bunch around the ankles. Patent shoes work best with evening wear, particularly a slipper style with a grosgrain ribbon detail.

Get the look

  • Lardini Slim-Fit Cashmere Rollneck Sweater

  • Hugo Boss Black Halwood Slim-Fit Super 120s Virgin Wool Tuxedo Jacket

04. How to wear a rollneck with a cardigan

Rollnecks work brilliantly worn under a sleeveless V-neck tank top or a cardigan. The former style is a great way to play with pattern. Go for a jacquard pattern – Gucci, for example, has some great styles – or an argyle and pick out one of the colours and match this with a block-colour rollneck to wear underneath. Round-neck tank tops work particularly well with this look. Again, opt for a fine-gauge knit to avoid too much bulk – the effect you are going for is that, from a distance, the two will appear to be one piece.

If you want to layer a cardigan over a rollneck, think of the top piece as outerwear so you can take it off to avoid overheating when you are indoors. Shawl-collared cardigans work well here – especially those with texture such as cabling. Or choose a piece that is cut like a jacket with lapels and patch pockets – look for cardigans in boiled wool that will contrast with the texture of the rollneck.

Get the look

  • Richard James Wool and Cotton-Blend Rollneck Sweater

  • Brunello Cucinelli Slim-Fit Shawl-Collar Ribbed Cashmere Cardigan

05. How to wear a rollneck with a suit

A rollneck worn under a suit is the ultimate in no-tie office wear – discreetly elegant and sharper than an open-neck shirt. Here, fine-gauge merino knitwear is probably a better bet than cashmere – as it is slightly harder wearing and less likely to pill if worn under a jacket. The look works particularly well with double-breasted suits – for a casual take on power dressing, twin a camel-coloured rollneck with a chocolate pinstripe suit. Think minimal with trousers tailored close to the leg and, for shoes, substitute hand-polished monk straps for brogues to keep the look as clean as possible. If you prefer single-breasted suits, try a charcoal suit with a lighter grey rollneck underneath – navy works well, too. Make sure the knitwear fits neatly over the shoulders to prevent any wrinkles so that it looks neat under the lapels of the suit. Avoid wearing T-shirts underneath as the neck seam will be visible and might look like you are sporting a thermal vest.

Get the look

  • John Smedley Cherwell Merino Wool Rollneck Sweater

  • Kingsman Navy Double-Breasted Prince of Wales Checked Wool Suit Jacket

Or Try These

  • Kingsman Cable-Knit Wool and Cashmere-Blend Rollneck Sweater

  • Howlin' Sylvester Brushed Virgin Wool Rollneck Sweater

  • Dries Van Noten Slim-Fit Stretch-Merino Wool Rollneck Sweater

  • Moncler Genius Striped Merino Wool-Blend Ski Rollneck Base Layer

  • Universal Works Striped Wool-Blend Rollneck Sweater

  • SAINT LAURENT Striped Cotton Rollneck Sweater