The latest New York Times Magazine has a story by Troy Patterson predicting the comeback of the turtleneck. Evelyn Waugh figures in the background material. The turtleneck’s introduction as a fashion statement is traced to the 1920s when Noel Coward brought it out of its working class origins. Waugh is cited as remarking on the turtleneck’s appearance in Oxford:
…Evelyn Waugh marveled at the popularity of the new high-necked sweater on the party scene, judging it ‘‘most convenient for lechery because it dispenses with all unromantic gadgets like studs and ties.’’ Further, the garment offered cosmetic benefits: ‘‘It also hides the boils with which most of the young men seem to have encrusted their necks.’’ That these two aspects of the turtleneck — easy access, convenient concealment — are mutually useful has forever since been appreciated by teenagers whose dates have been so rash as to raise hickeys.
The quote comes from’s Waugh’s diary entry for 18 November 1924 (Diaries, p. 188). He describes the garment as a “new sort of jumper,” not a sweater which is something worn by Americans. He found it “rather becoming” on the young men gathered at a party. This took place at Merton College in “Billy’s” rooms, apparently referring to Billy Clonmore (Lord Clonmore, later 8th Earl of Wicklow). Because Waugh’s diaries were not published until 1976, he cannot be claimed to have contributed much to the spread of the turtleneck’s popularity but is evidently cited as recording the beginning of its first fashionable period.