this thing's incredible

My Hunt for the Perfect Turtleneck

illustration by Joana Avillez

The turtleneck. Worn by kindergartners, grandmothers, and beat-poet impersonators alike. Iconified by the necks of Hepburn, Jobs, Keaton. It can convey intelligence, or it can hide goose waddle. Unlike its cousin, the mock turtle, it never goes out of style.

I remember my first one: pale pink with a pattern of tiny, green diamonds. Once or twice, I blew my nose in it. Was it not a bib? From preschool into adulthood, some still consider the turtleneck to be their first line of defense — namely my best friend, Isabel, who wears them all winter. “It absorbs the sweat that inevitably comes from hauling yourself around the city in a down coat,” she explained. “Plus, it elongates the form, which is key to successful layering.”

The neck is powerful (when adorned), erogenous (when hidden), and incredibly vulnerable (mainly to vampire bites). But mostly, my neck is just cold. I needed a piece of clothing built for its existence.

Specifically, I wanted the grown-up equivalent of the comfort that turtlenecks gave me as a child, like the feeling of rewatching that Sesame Street segment from the ’80s where they visit a crayon factory. And, I wanted simplicity and modern elegance that would tuck neatly into the high waist of my Rachel Comey jeans.

I began an investigation: What was the best turtleneck on the market? I surveyed friends and acquaintances and people I must have met once — meaning, I asked Facebook. The results were conclusive.

The Everlane Pima Stretch Turtleneck came in at first place, winning by the volume of “Everlane!!!” exclamations in the comments. Runner-up was the Tissue Turtleneck from J.Crew. “You can get three letters embroidered, too. I have a navy one that says OOF.” Many commenters expressed delight at a $275 seamless offering from Wolford. These, however, were not what I had in mind. I was after something inexpensive and replaceable, something that — if successful — could be multiplied by the rainbow, something to really blow my nose in.

So it was my friend Charles’s suggestion, “I mean Lands’ End if you’re buying in bulk / many colors,” that swayed me most. Kaitlin continued to build the case, “The necks are especially high, which I like. Last week I got one in the exact same orange as Jane Fonda’s in Barefoot in the Park.” This reference to a critical cinematic turtleneck left me hot around the collar. I was sold, so I clicked add to cart.

They were both talking about the Layering Turtleneck from Lands’ End — a cotton, rayon, and spandex soufflé currently on sale in select colors for $8. Most importantly, it is not itchy — a nonnegotiable quality that if disrespected will strangle you. It is tight, but not too tight; there is some bagginess to the midsection; and the fabric is not so thin that you feel like a walking X-ray. I’ve worn it out at all times of day: dog walking in the morning in lazy leggings and my neighborhood-only shoes, to dinner at the Odeon with silver pants and lipstick the color of a traffic cone. This turtleneck is simple, soft, cheap, and gets the job done; it is a staple element that withdraws into the background, like a darkened museum vitrine casting light on just your face.

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My Hunt for the Perfect Turtleneck