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How the black turtleneck pertained to represent creative genius

Composed by Digby Warde-Aldam

This short article was published in partnership with Artsy, the global platform for discovering and collecting art. The original short article can be seen here. The opinions expressed in this commentary are entirely those of the author.

When the disgraced health business owner Elizabeth Holmes was arraigned on fraud charges for her lab-testing company Theranos in 2018, much of the media discussion rested not on her alleged corporate recklessness and incredible abuses of trust, however on her sartorial options: black jackets, black slacks, and– most notably– black turtlenecks.

” I most likely have 150 of these,” she said of them back in Glamour publication in 2015. “( It’s) my uniform. It makes it simple, since every day you put on the exact same thing and don’t need to think about it– one less thing in your life.” Holmes’s statements would eventually come back to bite her, summing up her checkered organization profession in microcosm: design over compound, image forecast over integrity.

Steve Jobs has long been associated with turtlenecks. Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images North America/Getty Images

Unimportant as it seems, that information seemed to shed light on her character. According to one previous employee, Holmes’s taste in sweaters was a mindful channeling of the late Apple supremo Steve Jobs, who was seldom envisioned without among the numerous black Issey Miyake turtlenecks he owned. His radical reputation was related to his reliable closet staple, his black turtlenecks projecting a cool intelligence and basic unfussiness. They recommended that he was a different type of businessman– a “visionary” who did not play by the conference room rules. Had he dressed like Costs Gates or Jeff Bezos, would we actually remember him as anything other than an uncommonly shrewd CEO?

There’s an obvious concern here: How did a standard item of clothing concerned build up such lofty signifiers? The response lies in its extremely simplicity. The turtleneck’s appeal rests mainly on what it is not: It makes the timeless shirt-and-tie combination look priggish and the Tee shirts appear formless and slobbish, hitting that otherwise unattainable sweet area between procedure and insouciance. It is sufficiently wise to be used under a match jacket, yet casual and comfy enough for duplicated everyday wear.

Audrey Hepburn visualized on the balcony of the Restaurant Hammetschwand at the summit of the Bürgenstock, Switzerland. Credit: Graphic House/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Developed in the late 19th century as an useful garment for polo players (for this reason the British name for it: the “polo neck”), it was initially a practical style mostly worn by sportsmen, laborers, sailors and soldiers. However by the dawn of the 20th century, European proto-bohemians were currently seeing possibilities in the garment’s sophisticated performance, which chimed harmoniously with embryonic modernist design suitables.

Much of the credit for the turtleneck’s subsequent popularity can be credited to British playwright Noël Coward, who regularly sported one for a duration in his 1920s prime time. Though he stated his adoption of the garment was primarily for factors of comfort, it became a trademark that instantly recommended a contempt for convention. In any case, it caught on, in no small part due to its provocative possibilities. The tirelessly androgynous starlet Marlene Dietrich delighted in the turtleneck, matching one with a baggy, manly match and a knowing smile in an early 1930s promotion picture. Writer Evelyn Waugh, on the other hand, thought it to be “most hassle-free for lechery due to the fact that it does without all unromantic gadgets like studs and ties.”

German actress Marlene Dietrich, envisioned here in 1971, continued to use black turtlenecks in later life. Credit: George Stroud/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

However the turtleneck’s minute of true splendor did not arrive till completion of The second world war, when the post-occupation cultural renaissance of Paris made it a must-have for aspirant existentialists the world over. The garment became related to the attractive writers, artists, musicians, and film stars connected with the city: Juliette Greco, Yves Montand, Jacques Brel and Miles Davis, among others. Audrey Hepburn significantly co-opted the appearance in the Paris-set 1957 Fred Astaire automobile “Funny Face,” and where Hepburn went, other Hollywood stars followed.

More notably still, the French associations– moody, chic, deeply severe– made the turtleneck an underground reliability in the US in the 1950s. Over the next two decades, everyone from Lou Reed and Joan Didion to Eldridge Cleaver and Gloria Steinem was envisioned using one. Bob Dylan was hardly ever seen without one in his so-called “Electric Period” of 1965-1966. That very same decade, Andy Warhol adopted the black turtleneck as his signature appearance, combining it with shades and a floppy wig. It was perhaps the most reliable remodeling in art history; his pre-fame outfit consisted of preppy suits and ties.

Styles, however, will constantly lend themselves to parody, and with that, an undignified slide into the seamless gutter. The 1970s saw the turtleneck worn in a series of garishly bright colors that eliminated any illusion of cool that it may have formerly bestowed on its user– take Leonardo DiCaprio’s wardrobe in last year’s “When Upon a Time in Hollywood,” for example– and, what’s more, the basic black variant became seen as a laughable emblem of pretension in the years that followed. In the 1997 movie “Tomorrow Never Passes Away,” Jonathan Pryce’s character, a Murdoch-like media magnate, sports a black turtleneck in practically every scene; the look stands in for his hubris, megalomania and fatal overestimation of his intellectual abilities. Probably, Elizabeth Holmes was not focusing.

Yet the turtleneck was constantly too beneficial, too practical, too cool, to ever be consigned to the dustbin of history. If in doubt, take a look at those timeless monochrome photos of the Velour Underground, or Steve McQueen in “Bullitt” (1968 ), or Angela Davis in full-on extreme garb circa 1969. The list might go on.

A brief history of the style program

But as a devotee of the turtleneck, my favorite image of the garment will constantly be the earliest representation of it I know. Painted in 1898, when he was simply 26, the German artist Bernhard Pankok’s best self-portrait catches himself from simply above waist-level, framed against the window of a just decorated room. His wild hair, wispy mustache and expression of supreme self-confidence look in reverse to the young Rembrandt, however the art-historical homage is skewed by the tight-fitting black turtleneck he sports.

In both compositional and sartorial senses, Pankok’s option of clothing foregoes the extraneous frippery of the period’s fashions– shirt collar, coat, necktie– and leaves us to consider the fundamentals of the painting and its topic’s features. Long prior to the rest of the world had actually caught on, oblivious to the pop-cultural connotations this singularly useful item of clothes would acquire, Pankok distilled the essence of modernity into a single image. He provides himself as a man of the 20th century prior to the truth and, without understanding it, one for the 21st, too.

This article was originally released in October 2019.

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