The high-neck jumper was once boringly sensible. They are now the ultimate in chic authority. Polo necks are more sophisticated than other jumpers. Both in both senses. Smarter because a sleek, high neck is more polished than the common-orgarden crew neck and has a poise that the cardigan cannot match. Smarter because a polo neck looks smarter than any other jumper. Steve Jobs, Phoebe Philo – the world is run by people who wear polonecks. According to the knitwear yearbook the polo neck is the most likely to succeed.
Power dressing is not comfortable. Sharp tailoring and high heels are great, but they’re not what you need to be wearing to curl up on the couch. The cosy polo neck is a different style. This is the autumn Christmas jumper, a sensory treat like the smell of cinnamon, the crunch of leaves beneathfoot, and the velvety texture of Craig Revel Horwood’s Saturday night drawl.
Every year, around this time, I pull a chair across my room and climb up to retrieve the bulk of my knitwear collection from the top. The charcoal grey, plush one that is extra long to withstand draughts. The navy one with the large funnel neck and cropped sleeves (more fashion). A red fisherman’s knit-rib one, which is pure Meg Ryan from When Harry Met Sally. These are what October is all about, after getting the baubles and decorating the tree.
But it wasn’t always this way. Polo necks were once boringly practical. They were the “big jumpers” that your mom wanted you to wear, if you were looking for something you could die in. They were too tight and cheesy (see Ron Burgundy, Anchorman). Celine’s Show was born on October 7, 2011. The show featured 35 outfits, but everyone remembers the 36th. The show ended with Phoebe Philo taking her bow in a camel polo-neck sweater and her long hair tied back. Everyone at the Paris shows had their hair tied back in a polo neck the next day. You may think that I am exaggerating for comic effects, but I don’t. Fashion week does the exaggerating to comic effect.
Since then, the polo neck has been the ultimate in chic authority. Samuel L Jackson, always cool, matched his with his black eye patch in Avengers films. Emmanuel Macron, not as cool as he claims to be but still French, likes to wear one underneath a blazer. They were made by Elizabeth Holmes, now disgraced, back when she was still a Silicon Valley pinup. The television costume designers, the Phoebe Philos, are now the thought-leaders in the style universe. They have adopted a high neck as the key look for the alpha female. Suranne Jones, Vigil, held her own against naval uniforms’ pomp in her thick black high-neck.
But the queen of the small-screen polo is, of course, Shiv Roy from Succession, that firm chin lifted Nefertiti-high above covetable .stealth-wealth knitwear. Good hair is essential for a polo neck. You can try Audrey Hepburn’s straight pony in Sabrina or Philo’s half-tuck. Or a sleek bob as seen in Vigil and Succession.
Let me put it this way. Cardigan-wearing women look friendly and helpful. A woman with a polo neck seems to tell you what you should do and that you will do it. What would Shiv do?