Rules are made to be broken.  This definitely applies to fashion.  However, in order to break any fashion rules you have to know them first.  There is a quote by Charlie Parker that I just love and think applies to today’s post.

You’ve got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.

Today, I want to talk about turtlenecks.  When I got the request to write about them from a reader I was actually surprised that I hadn’t explored this topic yet.  After all, who doesn’t own at least one?  While they are fantastic basics, turtlenecks can be tricky for the litany of body issues they can create.  We’ve all heard that turtlenecks will make a woman with a large chest look like she is smuggling cantaloupes under her sweater, that women with short necks shouldn’t wear them unless they want to look like a turtle, and that turtlenecks will make it look like someone stole what little boobs a flat chested woman had.  With all these limitations, who the heck would want to wear a turtleneck sweater?  Why bother?

In addition to warmth and neck coverage, unless you can’t stand anything around your neck, turtlenecks can be very comfortable and quite stylish.  Despite the fact that I have a 34G chest, I wear them.  And this is my point about breaking fashion rules.  I know what a slim turtleneck does to the size of my chest, but I make the conscious choice to break this particular rule.  I don’t think there is the perfect universal turtleneck style for everyone out there, but I do think, if you know what does work best for you and what doesn’t, you can choose the the right silhouettes or choose which style rules you consciously want to break.

AccessoriesMe breaking the rules with an outfit I wore last week.

What you also have to reconcile with yourself when wearing a turtleneck is which figure flaw is the most important for you to highlight and camouflage.  Like me, the reader who emailed me about blogging about this topic has a swan-like neck and a large chest.  Therefore, for our necks, turtlenecks are perfect, yet, for our large chests, they’re not our best choices.  If one item of clothing works well in one way and then doesn’t in another, how do you choose?  Generally speaking, it is practically impossible to find clothing that accentuates and/or camouflages every body issue you have.  For me, for example, I love the way a turtleneck looks with my long neck so I am willing to sacrifice that my chest looks disproportionately large.  Look, when you have a chest that is my size it’s hard to really minimize it to be all that small anyway.  Additionally, I know how to work around times when clothing may not be my best choice, and it is my hope that through this post today I will be able to show you how, too.

Below are five different common turtleneck styles.  I am going to work through each one and talk about what type of body issues work and don’t work for each style, how you can modify each one and when it might be wiser to just let go of the pressure of dressing your body in a perfect way.

The Figure Flattering Guide to Wearing Turtlenecks

Style #1- The Oversized Turtleneck


Who doesn’t think comfy, cozy when they look at this turtleneck from J. Crew?   While it is great, there are a few issues that can potentially come with a sweater style like this.  Again, I am telling you these rules not to dissuade you, but to help you make an informed choice.

While the neckline is substantial, it’s not just the neckline that can be hazardous, it’s also the cropped length.  A sweater like this can be really bad for large chested women.  Not only does the enhanced turtleneck add bulk to the upper body, that can make a large chest look huge, but the cropped length is also going to make the chest look even larger.  The reason is that whenever you shorten a body part you also make it look bigger and wider.  Therefore, when a woman with a large chest wears a shorter sweater like this she will potentially look like her upper body is just boobs and a waist.  Instead, if you have a large chest and want to wear a really generous turtleneck like this one, consider a longer length, which will elongate the torso and make your chest look less large.

This style is also potentially dangerous for someone who has a short neck.  It’s just way too much coverage for someone who has this body feature.  However, women with short necks get cold too.  If you have a short neck and are looking to break this rule, wear this turtleneck knowing that your neck is going to look short and to avoid really long earrings, anything that will add more bulk around your neck and consider wearing your hair up.

If you are really short-waisted, this can also be a difficult style, more because of the crop than the neckline.  However combined, this crop and turtleneck style can really make someone short waisted look squat on top.  A work-around could be to style a longer top underneath, to create torso length.

In this outfit, I styled this J. Crew sweater with cropped tattersal pants from French Connection, a pair of oxblood shoes from Nordstrom, black stud earrings from House of Harlow, a black and gold bracelet from Ann Taylor and simple black cross body bag from Banana Republic.

Outfit #2- The slim turtleneck


Two of my favorite tops to wear are white man tailored shirts and slim knit turtlenecks, like this one from The Gap.  When turtlenecks sit close to the body they show every curve, lump and bump.  I know that I make my boobs look big, but, again,  I consciously make this choice.

If you are someone who has a large chest, wants to wear a slim turtleneck, but doesn’t want to be as flip about it as I am, there is a little trick that can help minimize your bust line– don’t tuck.  As simple as it sounds, back to the torso shortening tip, when you tuck a top in it shortens the look of the torso and makes the chest look larger.  By untucking your top, those few inches of length that is created can lessen the largeness of your chest.

If you are very curvy, try to wear bottoms that aren’t as contrasting to the color of your top.  Take this outfit, for example, I chose this navy tweed pencil skirt from Boden.  What happens is a clean, monochromatic line is created and the body look longer and leaner.  With this outfit I also added a pair of navy tights and contrasting colored pair of boots from Steve Madden in grey.  The heels add length.  However, if you are are looking to create an even longer and slimmer line, or if you are very petite, choosing a pair of navy boots would be the better choice.

Lastly, jewelry.  I think a pendant necklace with a turtleneck can look really flattering.  However, if you have a very large chest, choose a pendant style that is smaller and flatter, like this one from Banana Republic.  If you have a flatter chest you can go more substantial.  When it comes to earrings, shorter earrings, like these from LOFT,  will be better if you have a short neck, and feel free to go longer with your earrings if your neck is longer.

Outfit #3- The cowl neck


The cowl neck turtleneck can be the answer to every large busted woman’s prayers.  With a more relaxed drape and neckline, the “watermelons under a sweater look” is eliminated.  However, some caution still need to be taken when wearing cowls.

Often, cowl necklines come in really bulky silhouettes.  While comfortable, the lack of a defined waist shape, paired with the potential bulk created over the chest through the cowl, can be something to watch out for.  Instead, when wearing a cowl neck, look for styles that have some definition in the waist, are in less beefy knits, or drape closer to the body, like this sweater from Modcloth does, so that your body doesn’t look wide and boxy.

Cowl necks beg for larger earrings.  You really can’t wear necklaces or scarves with this neckline.  In this outfit, I added a pair of hoop earrings from Macys.  If your neck is short, cowl necks are also your friends because your neckline is more open, yet, be aware of choosing earrings that are too long.  You don’t want to give up all the freshly created neck space.

In this outfit, this drapey cowl neck is styled with a pair of (gasp, expensive, but gorgeous) J. Crew leather leggings, a pair of booties from Anthropologie and a Coach bag in cognac.

Outfit #4- The chunky turtleneck


The chunky turtleneck is like the kiss of death for a large busted woman, but a lifesaver for those who have smaller chests. Speaking for myself, I just avoid them.  It would be my recommendation that all women with large chests stay away but, again, conscious choice.  If you have a larger chest and want to wear one, just avoid styles that are too chunky and opt for longer styles that elongate your torso (for the same reasons as I mentioned above).  This style from Boden that I am showing is probably not your best choice.  However, if would be great for someone with a flat chest.  I do like this turtleneck for those with short necks.  This style is more of a funnel and is much lower.  What you get is the look of a cozy turtleneck without all the bulk.

Because this turtleneck looks more casual, I styled it effortlessly with a denim skirt from Guess, a pair of burgundy tights, moto boots from the comfort brand Born, and a teal bag that adds some nice contrast with the wine colored opaque stockings.  Lastly, it is all brought together with these Modcloth earrings.

Outfit #5- The mock turtleneck


The last turtleneck style is the mock neck.  The mock turtleneck is great for those who don’t like a lot around their neck, who have shorter necks and just about everyone.  While it should be understood that this style will have no effect on creating a small chest if you have a large bust, often the more streamlined appearance of a mock neck just looks cleaner without the extra fold over.

For a clean look, I paired this mock turtleneck from T Tahari with a black and white Reiss skirt, a leather jacket from French Connection and I loved the way the plaid scarf from Nordstrom worked with the print of skirt.  Lastly, for a streamlined silhouette, I used a pair of black opaque tights, heeled oxfords from Clarks, and, for a splash, a red handbag from Tory Burch.  For earrings, I added statement earrings that don’t dangle too low (great if you have a short neck) from Bauble Bar.

Do you have a question about how to wear the right turtlenecks for your body?  Ask them below!