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The Pleasures of Life

Turtleneck Kind of Gal

Sticking my neck out in praise of a fashion staple

By Lynne Brandon

Harry: I have just one question: What’s with all the turtlenecks? I mean it’s the middle of summer.

Erica: Well, I guess I’m just a turtleneck kind of gal.

Harry: You never get hot?

Erica: No.

Harry: Never?

Erica: Not lately.

This bit of thinly veiled flirty banter is from one of my favorite movies of all time — Something’s Gotta Give. The scene stealing dialogue is a game of mental ping-pong between playboy entrepreneur, Harry Sanborn (Jack Nicholson), and Erica Barry (Diane Keaton), famous and uptight playwright.

The conversation strikes a nerve and begs the question: Why do some women like wearing turtlenecks? Does it mean the wearer is uptight and neurotic? Is the look one of modesty or subtle sexiness?

And, really, why does anyone care? There seems to be no middle ground — people seem to love or hate turtlenecks.

Turtlenecks look good on almost every woman (especially those with long necks), and the garment looks equally dashing on men. The reasons for loving turtlenecks are as basic as the piece itself. It is both practical and fashionable: The neck-hugging sweater has been a classic style since entering the fashion scene in the 19th century.

To break down its merits further is easy. The staple item is a study of contrasts. Here is a garment that is simple yet alluring in an under-the-radar kind of way. It is a symbol of strength and style and, for some, rebellion.

One of the few reasons I can tolerate winter is because I get to wear my favorite black cashmere turtleneck. In the coolest months, I think there is no item that is more essential in anyone’s wardrobe, other than a coat.

Fashion history tells us that the origins of the turtleneck arose among the working class, who valued it for warmth and protection. Over time, they became a favorite with the Hollywood set. The turtleneck gradually became viewed as almost iconic for beautiful, active and independent women. Feminists — and even those who aspired to a hippie-boho lifestyle — got on board. Truly, the sweater makes a statement that is undeniable: The wearer has something to say to the world.

While many don the turtleneck, no one wears it better than the famously independent Diane Keaton, who gave it a starring role in Something’s Gotta Give. I met the trailblazing actress in 2019, and, true to form, Keaton had on her trademark black turtleneck. I also wore black for a dash of solidarity. She is as nice as she seems on the big screen, but I did not have the nerve to ask her the burning question on many fans’ minds: Why do you love turtlenecks?

But, if a turtleneck is good enough for the woman known for walking her own path, it is good enough for me. While I will not credit a piece of clothing with super powers, I definitely feel more confident and ready to face the day the moment my head pokes through a turtleneck.

And, as Keaton said, “I guess I’m just a turtleneck kind of gal.”  OH

Lynne Brandon is a Greensboro-based journalist who hopes to inspire others with stories about interesting people, places and things.

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