An Ode to the Black Turtleneck

By Rachael Atkinson, Asset Designs Sustainability Intern  


“You know, Rachael, some of the most successful people wear the same thing every day” my mom would say to me as I made myself late for school, tormenting over what to wear that day. What a waste of time it was for me to spend my mornings deliberating between two nearly identical belts to finish off my outfit (catch that Devil Wears Prada reference). She would always allude to Steve Jobs and his iconic black turtleneck, and I would scoff at her. This was 2012 and turtlenecks were anything but trendy. Besides, I wanted to work in fashion and I knew women like Anna Wintour wouldn’t be caught dead wearing the same outfit every day.

Flash forward 6 years: turtlenecks have made a huge comeback and I wear a black turtleneck 3 days a week on average. Funny how trends work. My mom has now found a new reference for my go-to-look. No longer Steve Jobs, every time I go home I am instead likened to Dieter, Mike Myers’ German SNL character.  

Pop culture references aside, my shifting views on what it means to have a ‘uniform’ gives a lot of insight into style, trends, and surprisingly, sustainability.

I’ve come to appreciate the black turtleneck for its’ many advantages. It is neutral, goes with anything, clashes with nothing...The perfect staple piece. But, I could be talking about any number of items. A little black dress, a white tee, your favourite pair of jeans. It’s an item you’ll wear time and time again, and is worth making an investment in. Once I discovered my signature basic piece I purchased a high quality turtleneck that I knew would last. This means I won’t be throwing it out after a few months once it gets a hole in it. If I didn’t buy a quality piece the replacement shirts would add up to huge amounts of textile waste over my life. The average Canadian discards over 30 pounds of textiles every year, and over an average lifetime that can amount to approximately 2,530 pounds of textile waste (Textile Waste Diversion, Inc). Buying clothing that’s made to last can have a huge effect in reducing your impact on the environment, and can actually save you money in the long run. I liven up my outfits with vintage and thrift store finds, partaking in the circular economy to further reduce waste and if there’s a trend I’m really loving, I may buy something new. However I, try to follow these rules when choosing what fabrics to purchase, in order to be as sustainable as possible.

The key to basics, is finding timeless pieces that reflect your style. This is what’s so life changing about classics, when you can throw on a black top and still feel like you’re expressing yourself. What 14-year-old-me hated about wearing basic pieces was that I worried everyone else was wearing the same thing. What I didn’t understand was the power of making basics your own.

Sure Anna Wintour doesn’t wear the same thing every day, but she most definitely has a ‘uniform’. She sticks to classic silhouettes, round neck dresses with statement necklaces and the occasional blazer, and yet she never looks like anyone else. She has made “classic” her own. As Yves St. Laurent so famously put it “fashions fade, style is eternal”, and Anna Wintour is a perfect example.

Some of my other favourite uniforms include the Queen of England’s tweed sets, Hillary Clinton’s iconic powersuits, and Karl Lagerfeld’s black suits. My personal uniform begins with a black turtleneck (of course), upon which I layer a variety of brightly coloured pieces and accessories to truly make it my own. This makes getting ready in the morning so much easier, and still allows me to have my own trendy look.

My mom and I could both agree that fashion translates so much about you (for good or for bad). What I never thought was possible is the extent to which a piece of clothing really can embody so much of what I believe in. Yes, the black turtleneck exhibits my personal style, but more than that it symbolizes my silent protest that following trends comes at a cost that isn’t worth paying. 

Never in my life did I think I’d be calling on Steve Jobs for fashion advice, but maybe if we all took a little hint from him we could find a way to truly balance fashion and sustainability.

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