From Michael Caine to Daniel Craig by way of Steve McQueen and Sir Ernest Shackleton comes the men’s roll-neck sweater. “It’s not a one-dimensional garment,” says Toby Bateman, buying director at Mr Porter, the menswear e-retailer. “You either love it or hate it.” Increasingly, these days, men love it.
Alexandre Mattiussi, designer and founder of the Ami label, which has roll-necks from £165, is a fan. “They are an essential and they fit everyone,” he says. “Something edgy on someone who usually dresses more classically is always a good twist.”
London department store Liberty has a wide selection, from casual to designer. “A roll-neck is both fashionable and practical,” says managing director Ed Burstell. “Its easy adaptability is what keeps it fresh – the ability to dress it up or down.” Burstell says he recently found himself revisiting the style: “It’s age-appropriate for me,” says the 52-year-old, who favours casual versions by Oliver Sweeney (from £150) and a more fashion-heavy ribbed camel style from Dries Van Noten. “I’m not trying to be a hipster but I’m not ready for retirement either.”
Damien Paul, menswear buying manager at Matchesfashion.com, credits the style’s duality for its popularity. While clients seasonally purchase classic versions in muted colours from, say, Bottega Veneta (£613), the fashion versions by Raf Simons (£276) and Maison Martin Margiela (£290, shown below) are also reporting healthy sales. At Cerruti 1881 Paris, which relaunched this autumn under artistic director Aldo Maria Camillo, the cashmere catwalk roll-necks (£472) have also sold well.
Paul says: “The roll-neck is quite transitional: straight from work to drinks or dinner with a pair of slim-cut trousers. You can leave the jacket at the office.”
Taking advantage of the roll-neck’s status as a wardrobe staple, John Smedley caters to both its older, practical customers and younger, fashion-led buyers with, respectively, the Richards easy-fit and Belvoir slim-fit styles (from £130) in 25 colours for autumn/winter. “The great success of the roll-neck is you can dress it up with a clean shave and suit, or dress it down with jeans and sports jacket,” says Jamie Tunnicliffe, the label’s sales and marketing director.
Another plus, of course, is that it keeps you warm. Alexander Gilkes, co-founder of auction site Paddle8, says: “Once the cold sets in, there is nothing better than a jumper that encases the neck.”
Charles Finch, founder and chief executive of brand consultancy Finch & Partners, often wears his Ballantyne roll-necks with a tweed jacket or suit. “I think it is both James Bond sexy and Sean Connery librarian,” he says. Finch sometimes has roll-necks made for him at his London store Chucs Dive & Mountain Shop, and calls his versions the Rubirosa after the Dominican diplomat and playboy Porfirio Rubirosa, who was often photographed in a roll-neck.
But some aficionados sound a note of caution: “Roll-necks can be too casual, even with a suit, for an office but in a relaxed European environment they’re perfect,” says Liberty’s Burstell.
And Josh Peskowitz, men’s fashion director at Bloomingdale’s, adds: “They are a nice way to dress down a suit but it has to be a flat weave, flannel or tweed. Nothing with a lot of shine to it.”
Bateman, of Mr Porter, says: “Keep the colours neutral and complementary, and the roll-neck thin. When done right, it is about the best way to dress down but still be smart.”
In the end, says Damien Paul, it comes down to balance. “A roll-neck lends itself to quite a minimal look,” he says. “If you’re a larger-sized guy, then you need be careful with the colour. For those with a shorter neck, a cowl or shawl neck would probably be better.”