History of the Mock Neck

Sweater of the Brave

Throughout history, the humble mock neck sweater had been adopted by a wide variety of people, from knights to sportsmen, to non-conformist artists.

But there seems to be one common characteristic that unites its many wearers – courage.   

Like many items of men’s clothing, the mock neck, sometimes referred to as the polo neck or turtleneck, has its origins in battle. In medieval times, higher neck smocks were worn by knights who needed to keep the chainmail they wore from chafing their necks and enabled them to turn their heads quickly in the heat of battle to defend themselves from riders coming at them from different directions.

Protection, against the neck protection, if you will. 

Battle of Cocherel, by Charles-Philippe Larivière
In the 19th century, the style found wide functional usage, across the whole spectrum of social classes. Those in trades that faced constant danger including the navy, fishermen and labourers valued its ability to keep the neck warm and trap heat, whilst it also found much traction with English polo players, a brutal sport in the early days, who adopted it as their iconic sportshirt, hence the term “polo neck” began to emerge on this side of the pond. Essentially a higher neck that rises up to the Adam’s apple, but not so high that it smothers the face.
In postwar America, the Beatnik movement further popularised the style. The simple, elegant, yet nonchalant look of the mock neck became the garment of choice for the collection of radical thinkers, musicians, artists and intellectuals of the time, who led a similarly nonchalant, devil-may-care lifestyle. It became somewhat of a uniform for those in the movement and the association remained to this day.
“The Beat Generation, that was a vision that we had in the late Forties, of a generation of crazy, illuminated hipsters suddenly rising and roaming America, serious, bumming and hitchhiking everywhere, ragged, beatific, beautiful in an ugly graceful new way…beat, meaning down and out but full of intense conviction.” – Kerouac in “Aftermath: The Philosophy of the Beat Generation”
The uniform, together with the movement, spread to Britain and France not long after.
Beatniks by the river Seine, 1965.
Starting with American novelist Jack Kerouac who had often been credited with starting the Beat movement, the sort of soul-searching, anti-establishment, live-life-to-the-full and I’ve-done-it-my-way philosophy influenced many cultural icons in the 1960s including Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Rolling Stones, all of whom pioneered new music genres that took significant personal risks and broke new ground; all of whom at one point, seemed never able to part with their turtlenecks.
Left to right: Mick Jagger, Brian Jones and Françoise Hardy, the Beatles.
Left to right: Bob Dylan, Otis Redding
Our superfine lambswool mock neck pays homage to this enigmatic sweater and its many daring champions throughout the ages.
With its higher neck, slim fit and in characteristically sober Colhay’s colours, we hope to pass on that magnetic appeal the turtlenecks of old had to the trail blazers of today.
We must confess that, just like its many brave wearers in the past, the style itself is a little risky, a little unconventional, but we think, a stylish garment nonetheless that evokes a certain sophistication, combined with a carefree attitude, for those who dare.