As we dangle precariously over the precipice of the holiday season, I was recently tasked with procuring some new duds for our little son, Oliver. Being a budding 9-year-old, he’s managed to outgrow a lot of clothes that fit him perfectly seemingly only weeks ago. With only a single pair of jeans that still work for him and but a paltry handful of presentable tops (i.e. those without images of Darth Vader and the like), I hit the streets to better outfit our little lad.
Turned away at the Levi’s Store (evidently, you have to go to Macy’s for their kidswear … and I’m not down with that brand of torture), I begrudgingly went to ye olde Gap on Fifth Avenue. To their credit, I found some basic items for Oliver in very short order, and was pleased to find that everything was 40% off. Score for Dad!
There was one particular garment, however, that I was envisioning for him that I wasn’t able to find, so I asked one of the salesladies. I inquired if they might have any black turtlenecks in his size. The woman practically had to stifle her laughter. To my further dismay, they didn’t have any in my size either. In fact, it didn’t look like they had any at all.
This all begged the question: What exactly is so wrong with the black turtleneck?
I used to frequently abuse an old line that I formerly wore a lot of black because of my fandom for bands like The Stranglers and The Misfits, but that I currently wear a lot of black because it’s slimming. That may be an old joke, but it’s actually pretty damn accurate in my case. And a big part of my wardrobe towards the end of autumn and into the gaping maw of winter has pretty much always been — or at least from the point in which I was picking out my own clothes — the staple of the black turtleneck.
Let’s review, shall we?
For a start, it’s a remarkably versatile piece. It keeps your neck warm, it’s largely a neutral color that you can wear under virtually anything (except white — although I was known to occasionally rock that look during less enlightened years) and, well, it’s black, so it’s inherently cool.
In the exclusive pantheon of high fashion iconography, the black turtleneck has been stylishly sported by unimpeachable figures like Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and Jackie O. Now, granted, these three particular women could have all worn dung-slathered potato sacks and still made them look effortlessly fabulous, but I’d suggest that there isn’t a woman alive who doesn’t look fucking great in a fetching black goddamn turtleneck. Whitney Houston — who I never liked — wears one toward the end of the video for “I’m Your Baby Tonight” (emulating the afore-cited Hepburn) and almost made me like her. Look closely, and you’ll notice Sinead O’Connor sports one in the stirring video for “Nothing Compares to You” (i.e. well before she went completely bugfuck insane).
Well, for a start, there was the Velvet Underground. I still remember paging through my college pal Jay’s weathered copy of Victor Bockris’ “Uptight: The Story of the Velvet Underground” and spotting a photo of late guitarist Sterling Morrison looking dead-cool in a pair of wrap-around shades and a black goddamn turtleneck. I asked Jay if I could remove the page in question, and he promptly told me I could fuck right off, but that single cool image immediately validated — to my mind — all that I was already believing.
Then, of course, there was my beloved Killing Joke. Around the time of their breakthrough album Night Time, key members of the band were quite fond of rocking the black turtleneck, notably inimitably cool guitarist Geordie Walker. He ever sported it on the sleeve for the “Kings & Queens” single.
Taking that a step further, in the elegiac clip for “Love Like Blood,” bassist Paul Raven (may he rest in peace) rocks a badass black turtleneck, while Geordie goes with a grey one.
I mean, does one need better evidence than that?
Given that I’m still prone to earnestly wear rock t-shirts well past the Rubicon of my mid-40’s and that I haven’t owned a proper suit since the halcyon days of the Clinton Administration, one could credibly argue that I’m the very last person who should opine about clothing. At my former place of employment, I was occasionally asked to write for a fashion blog called The Look (don’t search for it — it’s long offline). I wrote a couple of pieces about my appreciation for Shanghai Tang, my disdain for mandals and several pieces about t-shirts, but when I offered to write a post defending the black turtleneck, everyone seemed to look away, leave the room or swiftly change the subject.
As such, I’m doing it here and now on my own damned blog. As far as I'm concerned, if it was good enough for Jackie Onassis, Audrey Hepburn, Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison and Paul Raven, IT'S DAMN WELL GOOD ENOUGH FOR ME!
So, what say you — black turtlenecks — yea or nay?