Object of Desire: The Turtleneck

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I get that there are all kinds of reasons to be excited about the arrival of autumn (colorful leaves! crisp air! drinking cider?), but the main thing about this season that excites me is that I get to wear turtlenecks again, and there is nothing better to wear this fall.

But first, consider the turtleneck. I can almost guarantee you’re thinking of it the wrong way. You’re imagining something cozy and thick, the kind of woolen nightmare that doesn’t cover so much as it smothers, aren’t you? Well, stop. That’s wrong! Or, I don’t know, maybe that’s what’s right for you (and Drake). But that’s not the kind of turtleneck I’m talking about, the kind that’s like a knitted chastity belt for your whole upper body.

No, the turtleneck I want you to consider is sleek and fitted. It’s white, but not pure. (Think: Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, maybe the best example of covering up only in order to reveal in history.) And it’s black, but not demure. (Think: Sharon Stone again, presenting at the Academy Awards in a short-sleeve turtleneck from the Gap.) The turtleneck I’m talking about is only either white or black, because it is, by definition, an extreme thing to wear. After all, a turtleneck isn’t just a garment that pulls your look together, it pulls you together; it contains you, holds you in and holds you up. It is the tight, high ponytail of clothes; it is restraint, but it’s also an actual restraint.

In Alex Ross Perry’s psychological thriller Queen of Earth, Virginia (Katherine Waterston) and Catherine (Elisabeth Moss) are two women who are both struggling, with varying degrees of success, to hold themselves together, to not fall apart completely. But should the viewer have any doubt surrounding which woman will pull through, all it takes is one shot of Virginia, running through the early autumn woods, wearing not some sloppy sweatshirt but a dark, fitted workout turtleneck, hair smoothed back behind her, looking unruffled on the surface, no matter the turmoil going on just below, to know for sure who will be ok.

This is the beauty of the turtleneck, its unique ability to give its wearer an aura of control, even if, in any other outfit, it’s clear that same person just wants to surrender. So then, this fall, wear one and hide in plain sight, and when—or if—you’re ready, you can reveal as much of yourself as you want.

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen

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