In the course of my sartorial life I have worn band t-shirts with swear words emblazoned on the back, jeans so ripped they revealed half my shin and – once – an England football shirt while in deepest Scotland, but nothing, it seems, as offensive as an inexpensive, burgundy, wool roll-neck.
In the past year alone this item has been openly sniggered at by repairmen (in my own office), recoiled from like an off pint of milk by an ex-girlfriend and subjected to a two minute reenactment of the 1988 Cadbury Milk Tray man advert by so-called friends in the middle of a busy London pub.
And yet still, I persist.
I’m not quite sure why, except to say that against the tide of the default male stance when it comes to clothing – the one the says blend in, play it safe, never put your head above the parapet (or indeed, elongated neck material) – I like the thing, and I’m not prepared to give it up just because it reminds anyone else of Steve Jobs, the Beatniks or Captain Birdseye.
In fact, I like Steve Jobs, the Beatniks and Captain Birdseye, possessing as they do certain entrepreneurial, creative and seafaring qualities I aspire to. But beyond the associations – for which I will trade you one Beatle for every sexist moron mid mea culpa, thanks very much – there is something bold and elegant about the roll-neck that just looks cool, particularly when thrown under a pea coat (Bob Dylan agrees).
The famous American fashion designer Roy Halston Frowick – Halston to his pals – said: “Turtlenecks [that’s what the Yanks call them] are the most comfortable garment you can wear.”
I’d agree with that, and add that it also renders a flappy scarf unnecessary in the colder months.
Halston also said: “[Turtlenecks] move with the body, and they're flattering too, because they accentuate the face and elongate the figure.”
Accentuate the face. This much is true. The roll-neck is effectively a plinth for your face – it cradles it, like an autographed football sat proudly on someone’s mantelpiece.
Whether my face or anyone elses is worth being elevated to prominence is a matter of subjective debate, but the point is the man who dares wear a roll-neck dares say to the world: this is I. This is my face. In it is all I have seen, all I have suffered, all I have to give. Now fetch me an absinthe aperitif and liquorice roll up cigarette.
I like the idea of roll-necks. For a start they’re warm, like a sartorial draft-excluder.
And worn well they also give a man an instant gravitas and maturity that no other item of knitwear can get close to. Put one on a teenager and he looks like a man. That’s a powerful jumper.
But this sobreness is also their biggest problem. Their associations with a certain type of self-satisfied, eyebrow-arching middle-aged man who models in those free brochures they give out in The Sunday Telegraph are now so culturally ingrained that it’s increasingly hard for me to see the positives.
Sadly it’s become, for me at least, the Alan Partridge of menswear.
I recently tried on a very nice (and expensive) cashmere navy roll-neck that looked great on the shop shelf. It fitted well and felt pretty good on (apart from a very low-intensity choking sensation, like being throttled by an elderly flu patient). But one glance in the mirror and I knew it could never be.
My wife’s instant shake of the head and finger across throat motion from across the shop confirmed it.
Apparently, some people can look good in a roll-neck. For me, they’re at their best when worn scruffy at the weekend rather than all preening and smart with a jacket in the smart casual context of work.
But a chunky roll-neck also has a comical quality and clothes should never be funny.
The trick is to find out if you’re one of the rare breed that can pull the roll-neck off. And then be sure to only wear them sparingly. For all our sakes.
Because noone wants to be the ‘roll-neck guy'. And for that I rest my case.
Who is right? Or are they both wrong? Let us know @EsquireUK or in the comment below.