4 ways to style a classic polo neck jumper

Hannah Banks-Walker
Robert Redford knows how to rock a roll neck

The shops are full of them and perhaps a few of your friends and colleagues may have even started wearing one, but can you really pull one off without looking like the Milk Tray Man?

While watching Channel 4’s Catastrophe, I observed the character of Rob struggle into a roll neck jumper - before proclaiming that he looked like “a geography teacher who tells people he invented the MeToo hashtag.” It felt oddly familiar – as a fashion editor, I am regularly besieged by questions from my male friends, my partner and my three brothers, all keen to receive advice on what to wear to various occasions. They dislike – nay, detest – Fashion (with a capital F) but do also want to look smart, without feeling dull.

Recently I have become a strong advocate for roll necks - it’s just about finding one that makes you look (and feel) more Sean Connery than Steve Jobs. Rollnecks – also known as polo necks and not to be confused with a turtleneck (a polo neck’s shorter cousin) – really do look good on all men - to the extent I have found myself lurking outside men’s changing rooms, waiting for various guys I know to emerge in one, foisted on them by an enthusiastic me and received by a less-than-impressed them.

Actor David Oyelowo knows how to team a rollneck and suit with style

My aforementioned partner was more than slightly alarmed when he unwrapped a navy Merino roll neck I had bought him for Christmas. He didn’t even attempt to conceal his disdain. But upon trying it on, I saw that he liked it. He really liked it. He pretended not to like it, but he wore it to meet his friends at the pub, so he obviously liked it.

I wondered, then, why he – and so many men I know – were so staunchly against this seemingly inoffensive piece of knitwear. “I thought they were all really tight and would make me look like I had no neck,” said my eloquent friend, Stephen, now also the proud owner of a roll neck jumper. My brother added: “I don’t want to look like I’m trying to be trendy. I’m 42, for heaven’s sake.”

So what is the secret to the perfect roll neck? I would start by strongly suggesting you avoid anything tight-fitting, even if it says it’s made of “stretchable jersey”. Even if you have the body of a man who lives in the gym and who is more protein shake than human, sprayed-on is not a look that should really be sought by anyone over 25. And actually, probably not even then.

Instead, just look for jumpers that fit properly – if you want to wear it with jeans, something slightly slouchy will work very well, while jumpers in merino and finer fabrics can easily be worn under smarter jackets or blazers.

WAYS TO WEAR A POLO NECK JUMPER

1. POLO NECK JUMPER AND JACKET

Fiona Firth, buying director at menswear site Mr Porter said that “Roll necks were initially seen as a way to defy traditional dress codes but now they can be one of the most versatile things in a man’s wardrobe. Not just worn with casual looks, either – roll necks are now an acceptable and sophisticated alternative to a suit and tie.”

Polo Jumper and jacket 

Pure Extra Fine Merino Roll Neck Jumper, £39.50
Prince of Wales check wool, linen and silk blazer, £475

2. SLOUCHY POLO NECK JUMPER AND JEANS

John Lewis & Partners, too, said that it had seen an uplift in sales: “Specifically, in regard to own brand roll necks, the options we stock have nearly doubled since this time last year and we also introduced cashmere roll necks,” a representative said. Indeed, John Lewis has an excellent selection of affordable cashmere, which will look great just on its own with your jeans. again, make sure it’s more slouchy than form-fitting – if in doubt, opt for a size up.

Polo neck and jeans

Cashmere rollneck, £63, John Lewis & Partners

501 original fit jeans, £70, Levi’s

3. CHUNKY ROLL NECK JUMPER + CHINOS

If you’re partial to a chunkier style of knitted jumper, there are some great options with roll necks that are as easy to wear as your regular crew necks. J Crew, for example, brought back its cable knit roll neck from 30 years ago, as it had been a sell-out success. While the neck is slightly higher, it doesn’t have the foldover effect most roll necks do, so is a good compromise if you’re still filled with fear and trepidation about parting from your trusty old jumper.

Polo neck and jumper

Cable-knit roll neck jumper, £110, J Crew at Mr Porter
Regular fit chinos, £135, Gant

4. SUIT IN CLASSIC COLOUR + GREY OR NAVY POLO NECK 

If you do want to reinvent your suit, I’d suggest sticking to muted, classic colours like dark grey or navy – too much black and you’ll look like you’ve appropriated the wardrobe of a vaguely ridiculous despot. A dark red or navy jumper will work with grey suits, while a navy suit will suit grey roll necks.

If you’re not constrained by a dress code, it does make a good alternative to a shirt and tie in colder months. My friend’s husband confirmed this in an email, revealing that his desire to wear a roll neck to his own wedding last year nearly ensured that he wasn’t, in fact, my friend’s husband. I can confirm that they are they happily married, with his vast and varied collection of roll neck jumpers encroaching on her side of the wardrobe.

Reiss suit and Arket jumper

Grey suit blazer, £250;Grey suit trousers, £115, both Reiss; Navy Merino wool roll neck jumper, £59, Arket