Sweaters may all seem rather similar: they’re long-sleeved, knitted, and ideal for staying warm. However, there are countless designs available out there. Aside from the color and print, a distinctive detail in every sweater is the neckline. A crew neck sweater exudes a different style compared to a turtleneck sweater, and the same is true for cowl necks and shawl collars. To help you with your next round of sweater shopping, here’s what you should know about each type of neckline:
Casual and relaxed, the crew neck was first introduced to the public in the form of T-shirts, but it has branched out since then into all kinds of tops, including sweaters. The snug-fitting, round neckline has a minimalistic appeal, and it’s versatile enough to fit well with all kinds of styles, which is why it’s already an important part of American fashion today. Because it’s often layered over other tops, a crew neck sweater is best made of lightweight material. Many Irish style crew neck sweaters are made of Merino wool. This is an exceptional type of fabric that’s soft and breathable, and because it adjusts to your body temperature, it can be worn whatever the season.
Looking back at its history, the crew neck was closely associated with athletes, sailors, and the military. In 1913, the US Navy started issuing crew shirts for sailors to wear as undershirts for absorbing sweat. Interestingly, the first T-shirts were white, but this wasn’t ideal for camouflaging, so the color was eventually changed to green. Fast forward to 1938, and Sears, a long-time department store, started selling close copies of the US Navy’s shirts as outerwear.
T-shirts were also originally commissioned for football players because they wanted an undergarment that would protect their shoulders from chafing against the shoulder pads. Students were so enamored by the T-shirts that they started wearing them too. Soon enough, the crew neck style was everywhere. However, they only emerged with prints and decorative designs in the 1950s.
A cowl neck sweater is distinguished by its loose, floppy neckline that extends below the collarbone. It resembles a draped scarf, complete with soft folds and a layered appearance
The cowl neckline features prominently in a lot of clothes, including sweaters for fall and winter. Sweaters are usually knitted from cashmere, acrylic, or other fabrics. You’ll also find cowl necks in sportswear, formal clothes such as wedding gowns, short-sleeved tops, and even pullovers and ponchos.
Regardless of the type of clothing, the cowl neck is classic and flattering. It’s more often found in women’s clothing because of its feminine appearance, especially since the rest of the outfit hangs tastefully over the silhouette rather than wrapping around it tightly. If you want to accentuate your neck or draw attention to your torso rather than your legs, then this style might be for you. Go light on the jewelry—no need for a necklace—and pair it with a basic skirt, leggings, or jeans.
Although it only made a fashion comeback in the 1920s, the cowl neck has been around for a while. It’s derived from the Latin word “cuculla,” which means hood. The draped style was inspired by the Ancient Greeks’ loose clothing, and from the medieval ages up until now, some monks still wear robes with cowl necks! In the 1920s, designers started making silk and chiffon gowns with cowl necks, as pioneered by Madeleine Vionnet, and the trend took off from there.
The turtleneck is one of the most common necklines you’ll see during chilly weather. In fact, turtleneck sweaters have become a winter wardrobe staple because of how they keep the neck snug and warm.
The turtleneck collar fits snugly around the neck, with the fabric folded over and reaching close to your chin so there’s very little skin exposed. Just like the collar, the rest of the top fits tightly against the body, to the point that even the outline of your undershirt could be visible. Turtleneck tops are usually long and can be tucked in comfortably, and the collar has a distinctive ribbed knit.
The overall style of the turtleneck is sleek and sophisticated. Over time, it has evolved into countless styles so you can wear it for different occasions and even seasons, with fabrics ranging from fine silk to cozy wool. It’s popular for both men’s and women’s outfits. Men have paired it with suits, tuxedos, and blazers for a more informal look, while female fashion luminaries like Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn have made the basic turtleneck timeless and iconic.
Like most fashion inventions, the turtleneck emerged out of practicality, in response to cold weather. In the 19th century, it was worn only by sailors and the working class, but it gained high status during the 1920s, thanks to the British playwright Noël Coward. The preppy style movement picked up on it, and it even became a favorite for rebellious bohemians, including existentialists and intellectuals. Through the years, it has weaved in and out of fashion, but what’s certain is that it’s here to stay.
Out of these four, the shawl collar sweater is the most unusual. Although shawl collars also appear on robes, jackets, and blouses, it’s most commonly associated with dinner jackets and tuxedos. In its most basic form, a shawl collar consists of a V-shaped neckline that’s framed by two rounded lapels. This type of collar is a favorite for black tie events such as dinner parties and awardings, and in fact, James Bond is often shown wearing a shawl-collar tux!
A shawl collar is elegant and stylish, and its unique shape accentuates the face while elongating the silhouette. It especially complements those with an angular face, which balances out the roundness of the collar. However, even though they’re several notches more formal than the usual neckline, shawl collars are hardly ever found in business suits. Notched lapels would be more appropriate.
Shawl collars were first found in smoking jackets from the Victorian Era. Although a smoking jacket may seem dressy, it was meant to only be worn inside the home. Made of silk or velvet, it was the attire of choice for gentlemen when they retreated to their study after dinner. The custom was to drink port and smoke while reading. The smoking jacket served as a layer of protection, shielding from smoke and preventing the smell of cigarette from seeping into a gentleman’s sleepwear. Because shawl collars originated from loungewear, it makes sense that they’re considered less formal than notched labels.
Each neckline has its own look and history. Which are you drawn to the most? At Shamrock Gift, we have knitted sweaters with all four necklines, so there’s bound to be one that suits your own unique taste! A sweater’s first duty is to keep its wearer warm, after all, but style also matters.