Turtleneck with Tailoring: An Alternative James Bond Style

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Before the open-neck shirt with tailoring became popular, there was another way men wore their suits and jackets without a tie. In the 1960s men started replacing their ties and shirts with turtlenecks—also called roll necks or polo necks—in order to get away from the tie. This counterculture look never went fully mainstream, but it stayed in the background of menswear for about 30 years.

The turtleneck has one significant advantage with tailoring over the tie-less, open-neck shirt: it looks neater. There’s no empty space where you expect a tie to be, there’s no unbuttoned collar to flap around or fall down, and there’s no exposed neck and chest. Though it may not technically be ‘buttoned up’, the turtleneck has a neat, covered-up look that lends itself to pairing with buttoned-up clothes. It beautifully frames the face and flatters all necks. Compared to a polo, collarless jumper or t-shirt, the turtleneck provides a strong foundation for the jacket to sit against the neck.

When wearing a turtleneck under a tailored jacket, the outfit still looks complete and finished when the jacket is removed. This is not the case when removing a jacket to reveal a shirt. A man in knitwear always looks neater than a man in shirt sleeves.

There is also one significant disadvantage to the turtleneck, and its that it is not always the most comfortable choice. Unless it’s made of a fine fibre, it can feel irritating on the neck. It can also feel uncomfortably warm, especially for people who are sensitive to the heat. Though some people can wear lightweight turtlenecks in warm weather, it’s not a feeling all men can bear.

James Bond is not the best-known person for wearing a turtleneck with tailoring. Steve McQueen’s character Frank Bullitt in the 1968 film Bullitt is famous for wearing a brown herringbone tweed jacket over a navy turtleneck. McQueen’s outfit is only topped by his charisma. He did not originate the look, but he wore it well.

Roger Moore wears a grey tweed jacket with a turtleneck in an episode of The Saint titled “The Death Game”.

A few years before Bullitt, three stylish television characters paired a turleneck with tailoring. In The Man from U.N.C.L.E., David McCallum’s character Illya Kuryakin occasionally paired his signature black turtleneck with a suit or sports coat. In The Prisoner, Patrick McGoohan wears a uniform of a mockneck and piped blazer. A mock neck is shorter than a turleneck and does not fold over, but as long as it is higher than the jacket’s collar it functions with tailoring the same way. Before he was Bond, Roger Moore also wore turtlenecks with tailoring in The Saint, including a grey tweed jacket with a traditional knitted turtleneck and a striped blazer with a blue silk shirt that has a turtleneck-like collar and double cuffs.

Diamonds Are Forever Plaid Jacket
Sean Connery wears a turtleneck with a tweed half-Norfolk jacket in Diamonds Are Forever.

Knitwear of all sorts is less formal than a shirt, so the sportier the tailoring the easier it is to wear a turtleneck with tailoring. Hence, it’s easier to wear a turtleneck with a sports coat than with a suit. James Bond wears two sports coats with turtlenecks in the Bond films. The first is half-Norfolk jacket in a dark brown, fawn and red check that Sean Connery pairs with a fawn cashmere turtleneck in Diamonds Are Forever. The sporty and functional style of the jacket lends itself to dressing down with knitwear. The cashmere knit also perfectly complements texture of the tweed jacket. The turtleneck is lightweight so it fits comfortably under a jacket. A chunky turtleneck isn’t going to fit well under a jacket or create a flattering silhouette with a jacket.

Roger Moore wears a turtleneck with a blue double-breasted blazer in Moonraker.

In Moonraker, Roger Moore pairs a cream cashmere turtleneck with his blue double-breasted blazer. The blazer is a step up in formality from the tweed jacket, but it is still an easy and successful pairing. This turtleneck is lightweight, but the collar has a heavy ribbed texture. A thinner turtleneck collar can often sit better under a jacket’s collar, whereas Moore’s blazer was likely tailored specifically to fit well over this turtleneck.

Sean Connery wears a grey turtleneck with a black-and-grey herringbone hacking jacket in Never Say Never Again.

One of the best examples of wearing a turtleneck with tailoring comes on Sean Connery in Never Say Never Again, where he pairs a mid-grey cashmere turtleneck with a black-and-grey tweed hacking jacket. Like in Diamonds Are Forever, the texture of the turtleneck beautifully complements the texture of the jacket. The shade of grey matches the blended shade of the two colours in the hacking jacket for an elegant monochrome look.

Roger Moore wears a turtleneck with his Royal Navy Battle Dress in The Spy Who Loved Me.

In The Spy Who Loved Me, Bond wears a lightweight navy cotton turtleneck under his Royal Navy Battle Dress uniform. Here the turtleneck demonstrates that this uniform is for action rather than the ceremony of the parade uniform that is worn with a tie. It also serves to keep Bond warm when out at sea.

Yours truly channelling the Bullitt look with a Mason & Sons Goldfinger-inspired barleycorn tweed jacket with a fine wool turtleneck from Charles Tyrwhitt, trousers from Niven Tailors in Dormeuil herringbone flannel and Tom Ford ‘Snowdon’ sunglasses from Spectre.

It is difficult to pull off a turtleneck with a suit but there are tricks that can make the combination work. Sporty suits in tweed or corduroy are always a safe choice, but it’s possible to wear a turtleneck with a smarter suit too. A flannel suit is a good choice because the texture is a nice complement to the knit of a turtleneck. For worsted wool suits, something with a bit more weight helps. A pattern that adds a hint of sportiness, like a check or windowpane, can make the turtleneck look more at home. A fine texture or textural pattern like herringbone, nailhead or sharkskin can help the suit better mesh with the texture of the turtleneck.

David Zaritsky of The Bond Experience wearing the Tom Ford herringbone track stripe suit from Spectre with the N.Peal Moonraker cashmere roll neck. The suit has a hint of sportiness that helps it work well with the roll neck.

A suit that is very formal is almost never going to be a good pairing with a turtleneck, so a turtleneck with a suit that has any sheen, like a very fine worsted wool or a wool-and-mohair suit. Pinstripes look too serious to pair with a turtleneck. A lightweight suit in tropical wool or linen will be at odds with the warmth of most turtlenecks.

The turtleneck needs to be very fine to to pair well with a smart suit. While a fine cashmere or merino wool turtleneck can be worn with a suit, ideally a turtleneck in cashmere and silk, cotton and silk, or pure silk is better with a suit because it looks more formal thanks to a smoother texture and more sheen.

Sean Connery wears a herringbone tweed half-Norfolk jacket with a knitted shirt in Diamonds Are Forever.

James Bond has on rare occasion worn other knitwear with tailoring. While Bond has not worn a sleeveless cardigan or sweater vest with tailoring, they are traditional ways to wear knitwear with a sports coat. Bond prefers to wear a long-sleeve polo under tailoring. In Diamonds Are Forever, Bond wears a knit button-front shirt with a polo collar under a herringbone tweed half-Norfolk jacket when making mudpies with Blofeld. In Casino Royale, Daniel Craig wears a polo under a tweed-like topcoat when breaking into M’s flat. When wearing a polo under a tailored jacket, it helps for the polo to have a stand collar, which adds height to the collar and helps it stand up under a jacket collar. It looks much neater than a jacket collar that sits on top of and crushes the polo’s collar.

Daniel Craig wears a polo with a stand-collar under a tweed-like topcoat.

27 COMMENTS

  1. Excellent article Matt – I get the feeling you must have had lots of questions over the years about turtlenecks because this is so comprehensive! I really appreciated how you covered turtlenecks and full suits (featuring David Zaritsky no less!) as so many sites/personalities always seem to neglect the fabric/smartness of the suits when suggesting turtlenecks as an option.

    My only question is around navy blazers – is hopsack too spring/summery of a fabric to pair harmoniously with a turtleneck? Or would this be limited just by the weight of the hopsack fabric? Thanks!

  2. Hi Matt, another great article! I found this timely as I recently attended a convention and wore a navy mock turtleneck with my blue Donegal tweed sports coat, and navy cords. I also have my standard Steve McQueen look with navy turtlenecks and my brown tweed jacket from Hackett’s, London. But to really get it right, you gotta have the cool chuka boots!

  3. I’ve been waiting for you to cover this for years Matt and this was a great job. Agreed on all the important parts. I own a lot of suits and blazers and whenever I possibly can I pick the turtleneck or mock turtle over a shirt. It’s always been my preference. For whatever reason many people think this is just a 1970s look. But it both pre and post-dates the 70s.

  4. Great article as always. Personally I do not like turtle necks, but some people like Sean Connery wore them really good.

  5. For those who have sensory issues with wool on skin, a long-sleeved crew neck t-shirt could work wonders. As far as I know, it’s better for the turtleneck, too; for the same reason a suit coat should always be worn with a collared shirt – to protect the wool from sweat and skin oils –, a sweater lasts longer if worn over an undershirt. And depending on the weather, the additional warmth is a nice little bonus.

  6. Great post. I seem to remember Roger wearing a white roll neck with a medallion over it and a blue blazer in one episode of the Persuaders, and he reprises the look as Bond, only without the medallion. I am going to try the navy roll neck with brown blazer. That is a very easy-to-wear look.

  7. Great article, Matt. I think turtle necks work for Americans and Europeans but I don’t think British men can pull them off. Happy to be proved wrong. Amanda

  8. Excellent topic and analysis, thanks Matt.
    I have always been a fan of the roll neck-jacket combination. It has this 1960s whiff but also ends up being very convenient when running out of shirts, or inspiration.
    Moonraker being my first Bond movie ever, I guess the scene in the plane must have made a strong impression.

    Now: what is your take on how to wear the said roll neck ? Outside or tucked in trousers ?

  9. The only argument I have is the “flatters all necks” part. Guys with thick necks are probably better off avoiding them unless it’s a short mock neck. A rolled-over neck, particularly with heavier material, isn’t always a great look for them. I tends to REALLY emphasize the neck.

  10. Great article, Matt. Very « smart casual look » that is quite versatile. I tend to avoid them myself because having a long and skinny neck, the turtle neck seems only to emphasize it and elongate my neck more. Sometimes I even turn the turtle neck down ! Most men referred to in the article often either have thick (Moore, Connery…) and/ or rather short necks (McQueen). It suits them fine. As an alternative, I still have to find a decent brand offering simple long sleeves polos with a tall collar band that doesn’t collapse when you wear a jacket over it. Any suggestions ?

    • I find that they look good on just about everyone. Usually it’s people with short or thick necks who say they don’t look good in them. I don’t think it matters.

    • That’s interesting, I also have a long thin neck and I find they work pretty well on me. There must be more to it, like face shape, body proportion, even haircut. It’s a constant balancing act, isn’t it!

    • I wouldn’t really put Moore/Craig in “thick” neck territory. When I talk about dudes with thick necks, I’m thinking more like Oddjob and Mr. Hinx. I don’t think a thicker roll-over turtleneck would be particularly flattering on them.

  11. I always thought is was a “polar neck” and a turtle neck is a finer thinner neck that is folded back and sewn down

    • ‘Polar neck’ is a new one to me! The kind that is folded back and sewn down is called a ‘mock polo neck’ or ‘mock turtleneck’. Mock turtlenecks are often shorter than a proper turtleneck, but they don’t have to be.

  12. I love the Archer connection!
    I posted a pic wearing a turtle neck with a suit recently on another thread. This look was partly inspired by Jack Banham in ‘Pennyworth’. It’s a good look when done right.
    I don’t think turtlenecks are incongruent with long necked people. I probably fit into that category myself. I’m more conscious of very low necked items – I like the look of breton tops and own several but I don’t like the very low cut boat neck versions. People with long necks need a bit of coverage not exposure!
    Finally the turtle neck is front and centre in this article which is one of the finest pieces of writing on menswear I’ve ever come across. Enjoy! …

    https://www.gq.com/story/fashion-generation-tips-national-magazine-award

  13. You left out the “Live and Let Die” outfit. Really worked. As I have written in the past, I believe the turtleneck in “Moonraker” was for practical filming reasons. A necktie would flop all over the place and get in the actor/stuntman’s eyes. Quite possibly a real safety hazard. Notice the villain jumper had a helmet and safety goggles. He wore a tie.

    I have no problem with wardrobe choices being determined by the needs of filming, especially for safety reasons. (see Mel Gibson and Danny Glover wearing eye protection in the first Lethal Weapon movie when they were in a scene where a house explodes. Safety first.)

    Great post, keep up the good work.

    • I was focusing this on Bond, though if you’re talking about Adam in Live and Let Die, he did wear his turtleneck and jacket very well.

      I agree that wardrobe needs should match the filming needs. It makes a lot of sense in Moonraker.

    • Jim S may have been referring to Rog wearing the tactleneck in LALD but you may have left this out as it wasn’t worn with tailoring. Similarly Sean’s ninja suit in YOLT had a turtleneck but again no tailoring.
      What about Sean wearing a light grey turtleneck with the grey tweed jacket when he arrives at Shrublands in the Bentley in NSNA?

      • There are a number of wonderful turtlenecks throughout the Bond series, but since this topic is about turtlenecks with tailoring, I left out all that weren’t relevant.

        That one in Never Say Never Again certainly is relevant, and a wonderful example. I do often forget about that film. I will add it to this blog.

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