Neck Knack: How to Combine Jewelry with Cowl Necks & Turtlenecks

As the country is blanketed with snowstorms and rain this week, with even Los Angeles receiving a double dose of blustery rainstorms, many of us are focusing on keeping our necks warm.

One reliable solution is the turtleneck sweater, which has a high, stretchy, tubular collar that fits close to the neck. The collars of most turtlenecks fold over at the top and are meant to fit smoothly along the length of the neck. An issue arises when one’s neck is shorter than is contemplated by a turtleneck’s collar, and it bunches up under the chin, rolls down, or perhaps flips up at the bottom.

A solution for those with shorter necks, or who prefer less sweater constricting the neck, is the mock turtleneck. The mock turtleneck collar is lower and typically looser in fit than the collar of a turtleneck, and usually has no foldover.

A third option is the cowl-neck sweater. The cowl neck is something like an overgrown turtleneck, a high, soft, tubular collar large enough to stand away or fall away from the face. The size of the collar and the amount of fabric dedicated to it can vary greatly. Some collars are low and floppy; others sit higher and frame the wearer’s face. Some cowl-neck collars are designed to fall as much as an entire heads-length away from the wearer’s face, hitting at chest-level. A well-loved, much-used turtleneck sweater can sometimes begin to take on the attributes of a less extreme version of a cowl-neck sweater as the collar stretches.

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Illustration: Cowl-neck sweater worn by Jessica Simpson 12/09 that might benefit with the addition of jewelry

This time of year, retailers in colder climes who stock basic sportswear are chockablock with turtlenecks and mock turtlenecks. Either or both of these styles are likely to work on just about everyone, the length of one’s neck being the determinative factor for many. T-necks and mock t-necks can sometimes work beautifully to disguise a double chin.

Also in abundance in stores this season are cowl necks, in all their variety as to their collars and how they lie. I have heard from a couple of colleagues around the country that they abhor cowl necks. The trick is finding one that is flattering. For someone with a short neck, a larger cowl neck may open up the neck area in a most flattering manner.

Turtlenecks and mock turtlenecks are generally quite sleek on the body, the perfect background for one or more gold or silver chains or a stunning statement necklace. Aesthetically it is most pleasing to choose a design that leaves some space between the bottom of the collar and the top of the necklace design. This is especially true of the mock turtle, which fits more loosely around the neck.

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Illustration: Christian Lacroix fall 2009 design of a turtleneck sweater with necklace

Cowl necks and necklaces are a more challenging combination. Long necklaces that hang below the cowl might work but have to be chosen carefully so as not to look like unrelated clutter drawing the eye down. Short necklaces are likely to interfere with or distract from the line created by the cowl neck and for that reason, generally should be avoided.

I prefer brooches to necklaces with cowl necklines. Brooches can be pinned to the side of the cowl or sometimes directly on the cowl, and a cluster of brooches there can provide an interesting effect.

With regard to earrings, choose an exceptional pair of medium- to large-scale earrings to wear with a cowl neckline. The earrings should be at least an inch in diameter, and preferably larger, to balance the scale of the cowl. The earrings will keep the focus up on the face. With turtlenecks and mock t-necks, I especially like the look of hoop earrings. Because the high collar of the sweater already brings attention to the neck, a simple style of earring is sufficient and attractive adornment.

Of course, bracelets and rings are excellent choices to finish any of the sweater-centric looks. There’s something wonderfully rich and festive looking about the shiny metal of beautiful jewelry contrasting with the texture of a soft, cozy sweater.