There’s a big difference in pulling on a shapeless mass of wool and donning a sweater. And since the temperatures around here just plunged from forget-your-jacket-it’s-still-practically-summer to where-did-I-put-the-windshield-scraper, it’s time to examine our options. And before you tell me it doesn’t matter what you wear around the house, let’s remember what I’ve told you before. YOU see what you’re wearing and sloppy doesn’t always equate to comfy. You don’t have to sacrifice style for snuggle.
On Picture Day at my high school, everyone looked like they were going to the same funeral. Or jumping into the time machine to visit a dive-y café where we’d click our fingers to a beatnik poetry reading. We were all wearing black turtlenecks. Why? Because, 1) they came in every size and were fairly inexpensive and easy to get ahold of and 2) it’s the one “universal” sweater BELIEVED to look good on everyone. And generally, that’s true. From the neck up. Alas, it’s a different story from the neck down. And in many cases, it doesn’t even look so hot at all. This is what we all THOUGHT we looked like.
Fair warning: You’re going to see an AWFUL lot of turtlenecks in this pictorial guide to Star Style sweaters.
That doesn’t mean you should rush forth and snag one. There are sweaters and there are sweaters and some of them are NOT for you.
Lean in, old school
Dark turtlenecks are designed for international spies, jewel thieves, and you. Maybe.
High-necked and turtlenecked sweaters at their best on your slender sisters; especially those whose beauty tends towards the Naturally Charming or Sophisticated Ingénue type.
Ladylike gals, very feminine ones, and bouncy girl-next-door types aren’t as successful at sporting the Illya Kuryakin look.
That’s because, really, basically, a turtleneck is a man’s garment, built to travel up and down, rather than sideways over hills and dales. Plus, it’s a very simple, plain, almost severe top, and you girly-girls tend to like to add a few fun touches.
Yes, I know, some of the great publicity pictures of all time involved Marilyn Monroe wearing one (see below), but, she’s got a few secrets I’ll be sharing with you in a second.
Here’s the turtleneck, done right. You’ll note all of the women in this segment probably complained to anyone who would listen that they had no figure to speak of.
Well, here’s the payoff…they look amazing in turtlenecks and other figure-hugging sweaters.
Carole Lombard, a whippet of a woman, wore sweaters with great louche charm.
Glamorous Kay Francis lounges seductively in her sleek, dark, belted sweater.
A recent auction of Greta Garbo’s estate revealed her dedication to the simple elegance of the turtleneck.
Katharine Hepburn was a devotee of the turtleneck, too.
More recently, Ali McGraw championed natural beauty with her clean California style and the turtleneck was a big part of that.
Coltish Mary Tyler Moore, on- and off-camera, loved wearing turtlenecks.
Marlo Thomas epitomized breezy all-American chic with her inevitable ribbed turtlenecks.
More laid-back loveliness from Eva Marie Saint.
Jane Fonda looks right at home in her “Oh, this? I just tossed this on” ensemble.
Kim Novak turns on the charm in her snug dark turtleneck. Note, please, how HUGE the collar is…that’s what takes this sweater from ho-hum to wuh-BAM.
And of course, the patron saint of black turtlenecks was Audrey Hepburn, who never met a turtleneck she didn’t like.
Sisterhood of curves
Let’s take a look at some legendary leading ladies who have the va-va-voom factor and see what sweaters work best for them, shall we?
First, let’s re-visit that famous Marilyn image. Why does it work for her? Well, for starters, Marilyn’s lightweight turtleneck is hugging every generous curve–and it’s CROPPED. And she shoved up the sleeves to align them with her waistline. And she’s wearing it with contrasting skin-tight white pants that are plainly NOT your mother’s jeans. And it’s tight and tiny and very finely knit, so there’s no extra bulk. She didn’t just dig around in her boyfriend’s closet and tug on one of his. This is exactly how you can keep from looking like you’re posing for your high school yearbook when you wear a plain ol’ turtleneck.
Here is another famously curvy girl, squished into a sweater that was no doubt a hit with the boys in the backroom. I can practically hear Sophia swearing in Italian as she wrestled it on. Happily, she can wear it to her next doctor’s appointment and not have to take it off.
So, what can you bombshells wear? V-necks, cowl necks, scoop or U-necks are infinitely more flattering and they aren’t difficult to find.
Throwing a fit
There should not be room for you to smuggle a small animal within your sweater. It shouldn’t be skin tight (unless you have an amazing build) nor should it billow when you walk.
The right fit is one that skims your silhouette neatly.
Ribbed turtlenecks will snuggle over your body, so if you have some little rolls, wear a camisole with some stretch to it. Better yet, curvy girl, don’t wear a turtleneck, wear a generously luxuriant cowl neck sweater or a nice scoop neck one with a gorgeous scarf.
You’ll thank me for it. Even if you’re sad that you don’t look like a secret agent.
High hip or tunic is the most flattering length. Watch out for the sweater hem that encircles your fanny and draws attention to your derriere. (Paula Prentiss does it well…more about her lanky, swanky style here.)
Armhole drop: The armholes on most sweaters are way, way too deep. (That fresh-faced beauty is Esther Williams, in case you’re wondering.)
This makes your bust, if you’ve got one, look like the prow of a ship, setting sail over stormy seas. The armholes should be nicely snug, close to your armpits. Rita’s dropped armholes add width to her chest (and not in a good way…).
But Liz’s sculpted high and tight armholes define her gorgeous bust.
Think outside the black
I know, you think black turtlenecks are automatically slimming and flattering. They can be, but please, try on a white or ivory. Take a look at Lauren Bacall in both.
Every blonde thinks she looks great in a black turtleneck, but, while it does highlight your hair color, black can be very harsh if the knit is flat and if the blonde isn’t bothering to do her makeup.
Great color can add youth and freshness to the face—color doesn’t scare Doris.
Kim Novak’s gorgeous lilac choice has managed to make a cardigan look sexy.
And check out Virginia Mayo in coral red!
Look for knits that are warm but not too chunky. Yvette’s wine cashmere v-neck is right on trend. (J. Crew, we’re looking at you.)
Cashmere has the softness and allure that’s mother’s milk to Classically Ladylike and Lively Girl-Next-Doors.
…they add pounds, as do horizontal stripes. I always think I don’t have to say that, but I know several wonderful, well-endowed women who persist in wearing wide, bosom-bracketing stripes that resemble equatorial guidelines on a globe.
Only friendly to VERY slender, younger gals. If you love stripes, consider the very, very thin sailor stripe or Breton look, but not the rah-rah variety Jane Fonda is successfully wearing below.
Textured knits require a bit of thought, too. Bubbly or dobby-style weaves, raised ribbing, cables, popcorns..think twice. Tiny Paulette Goddard looks adorable in somethig I wouldn’t wear on a bet.
Try it on and squint at your reflection. Do you look bigger or slimmer in it? Maybe you want to look bulky, I don’t know. But just do it on purpose. Here are some textured sweaters, worn by gals who get it right, including the ever-charming Hayley Mills.
I find Girls-Next-Door are drawn to, and can carry off, novelty sweaters.
Here’s Deanna Durbin, cute as a bug in her cold-weather dobby-knit cardigan.
And here’s Ginger, boldly going where no Classically Ladylike should go…
Youthful Loretta Young sports a similarly kooky sweater and looks just as cute, too!
Before you hustle over to Target to look for a sweater, think about what lies beneath. Sweaters look best with SMOOTH bottom halves, like pencil skirts or nicely fitting jeans or no-belt-loop pants or leggings.
If you pull them over bunchy elastic waist pants or your hip-slung jeans, they’re going to ride up and drive you nuts. That’s how women wind up crying in the ladies room—it’s the first time they see how much poundage that stupid sweater adds to their hips. Don’t be that woman. Take along the pants or skirt you intend to wear the sweater with when you go shopping and check out your rear view. Don’t believe the sales girl, she’s there to sell you something. Ask along an honest, loving friend.
Ribbed waistbands and wristbands serve a valuable function…they keep wind from sneaking into your sweater. They also contribute to making you look fat. I’m just going to put it out there as plainly as I can. The wrist cuffs look dorky and the waistband will bunch up at your least-flattering diameter, I promise you. Please never, ever buy a sweater with ribbing around the waist or sleeves if you intend to wear for anything other than raking leaves. If you must have ribs, confine them to the neckline, as Ingrid so prettily has done above.
Quality time at the mirror
Sweaters are inherently casual, but that doesn’t mean your hair and face get the day off. A nicely done, easy-going makeup can upgrade your look like nothing else. See how Natalie Wood’s carefully chosen necklaces and her smoky eye transport her turtleneck from sporty to sultry?
Don’t sweat(er) it
So, there you have it, sisters! Go to that long-neglected and over-stuffed sweater drawer and TRY THEM ALL ON. Ruthlessly toss all that you can file under: Pill-y, scratchy, unflattering, hubby-and-wife Christmas sweater duo, stretched-out, oddly hued, gifted-by-good-hearted-but-clueless-relatives. Then, embark on a new season of Star Style sweaters that will have you wishing for a nippy autumn day.