AskDefine | Define turtleneck

Dictionary Definition

turtleneck adj : having a high tubular collar fitting closely around the neck [syn: turtlenecked] n : a sweater or jersey with a high close-fitting collar [syn: polo-neck]

User Contributed Dictionary


Alternative spellings


From turtle + neck.


  1. In the context of "US": A high, close-fitting collar, turned back on itself and covering all or most of the neck, on a sweater or similar garment.
  2. In the context of "US": A turtleneck sweater.



high, close-fitting collar rolled up
  • Icelandic: rúllukragi
turtleneck sweater
  • French: pull à col roulé
  • Icelandic: rúllukragapeysa

Extensive Definition

A polo neck (UK) or turtle neck (US) or skivvy (Australia) is a garment—usually a sweater—with a close-fitting, round, and high collar that folds over and covers the neck. It can also refer to type of neckline, the style of collar itself, or be used as an adjective ("polo necked").
A simple variant, the mock polo neck (or mock turtle neck) resembles the polo neck with the soft fold at its top and the way it stands up around the neck, but both ends of the tube forming the collar are sewn to the neckline. This is mainly used to achieve the appearance of a polo neck where the fabric would fray, roll, or otherwise behave badly unless sewn. The mock polo neck clings to the neck smoothly, is easy to manufacture, and works well with a zip closure.


Turtlenecks gain their name from being similar to the (extendable) neck of a turtle, and are one of the many types of polo necks.
The polo neck sweater, like most sweaters, first emerged in the 1890s as an article of sportswear. Originally a thick woollen garment, lighter versions were designed for those who found coarser wool uncomfortable against their skin. These lighter polo necks would remain popular with soccer, hockey and golf players of both sexes until the 1920s, with soccer team uniforms for goalkeepers continuing to feature polo necks as late as the 1950s in the UK. It was also worn for some equestrian activities, though no evidence exists for its use in polo, which might otherwise explain its name.

Casual wear

Seamen and menial workers began adopting polo necks as work wear at the turn of the century. Over time polo necks would also become acceptable casual wear, though still usually for men only. It was in this stage that a range of light polo necks in a variety of colours began to be designed. Their adoption by Noel Coward in the 1920s turned them into a brief middle class fashion trend. Again, it was the feminists who turned these into a unisex item.
Absorbed into mainstream American fashion by the mid 20th century, the polo neck came to be viewed as an anti-tie, a smart form of dress for those who rejected formal wear. Senator Ted Kennedy and scientist Carl Sagan were among those often seen in polo necks.

Women's wear

Later its increasing acceptability as women's wear saw it become a fad amongst teenage girls, especially in a lightweight form that emphasised aspects of their figures. It was not long before (Hollywood) was also exploiting this image as part of the sweater girl look.
By the late 1950s the "tight polo neck" had been adopted as part of the preppie style amongst students, a style emphasising neatness, tidiness and grooming. This would become an important aspect of the polo necks image in the US. The look would filter through to Britain and Europe in a watered down version.
In contrast, France saw the black polo neck adopted by left wing bohemians and intellectuals, and by the late 1950s their counterparts in the United States and Britain had also adopted the fashion.
This trend continued into the 1960s and 1970s, with the white polo neck being briefly adopted as a corresponding item for mainstream feminists. The polo neck was generally seen as a unisex and classless garment and wearing one remained a political statement in many circles. However, the polo neck in all its forms soon became a standard wardrobe item for both sexes during this period.
In Britain, clothes shops generally only stock polo necks in the women's section. Some men still wear polo necks, but is considered old-fashioned for men to wear them. They remain very popular amongst women.

See also


turtleneck in German: Rollkragenpullover
turtleneck in French: Col roulé
turtleneck in Japanese: タートルネック
turtleneck in Polish: Golf (ubiór)
turtleneck in Swedish: Turtleneck
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