Preppy Undershirt: Polo Vs. Turtleneck


Last week I tweeted a one-liner about wearing a polo shirt under my oxford on a day when I wanted an extra layer. I thought it would make for an interesting post, particularly with a vote. I mean, how many of you actually do that? Then sure enough yesterday a member of our Facebook group posted the photo above, and the matter is officially up for debate.

Your other traditional preppy option, as this 1982 photo shows, is a jersey turtleneck under an oxford:


The exposed white tee is another matter entirely. — CC

74 Comments on "Preppy Undershirt: Polo Vs. Turtleneck"

  1. Roy R. Platt | January 18, 2015 at 12:40 pm |

    If one is cold, a turtleneck is going to keep one warmer than a polo shirt (even with the collar popped) so I don’t see what the question is here. Real people who need to stay warm (like sailors on the North Atlantic in the winter) wear turtlenecks, not polo shirts.

  2. I’m talking cold as in polo/turtle under oxford under sweater under sportcoat under topcoat.

    Of course, in the photos above they are being worn more for style than survival.

  3. What does the community say about buttoning the top button of the polo shirt when worn under an open neck oxford?

  4. Layering; astonished none of you knew this stuff. Keep up, chaps.

  5. Redcoat, did you look at the pictures, or read Roy’s and Christian’s comments? Layering is exactly what this post is about.

  6. Y’all forget sweaters exist or something?

  7. My answer to the quiz is “none of the above.” When I’m going tieless and need to keep my neck warm, I chose an ascot.

    Then again, no one ever accused me of dressing in the Ivy League style.

  8. Ascot to keep neck warm. Sounds like Will of ASW.

    When I wear an ascot, it has nothing to do with warm. It’s pure neck mojo.

    “In all cultures and in all eras, the neck has been the focal point of masculine self-assertion.” — Pearl Binder, The Peacock’s Tail

  9. I’d wear an undershirt and a woolen ascot or cravat. And a sweater or vest over the shirt.

  10. Pop my jacket color, and or wear a scarf.

  11. collar*

  12. For some reason some readers were fixating on the notion of cold and skirting the central question: do you wear polos and turtlenecks under an oxford or not?

    References to the temperature have now been removed from the post and poll.

  13. what? pick one (1) collared shirt and do that. Even if you are able to show that layered collared shirts are somehow “authentically” Ivy Style, meaning it’s a look that was employed by preppy college students fifty years ago, *today* it is inextricably linked to all manner of douchery (under certain conditions, the turtleneck under shirt is more of an ice hockey coach look. Less bad, yes, but still a long way from the elegance you should want to go for).

    Get a thin woolen undershirt or a woolen scarf. I have gotten both for cheap at local goodwills (granted, I live in Sweden, so the undershirt may be more of a challenge for some).

  14. Bags' Groove | January 18, 2015 at 3:06 pm |

    Only a turtleneck under an oxford, but do avoid white, otherwise you can look as if you’ve sustained an injury to your neck.

  15. Do you wear polos and turtlenecks under an oxford or not?

    No. I associate the look of both with slightly pretentious young men at Sunday brunch 40 to 45 years ago.

  16. I prefer to wear a down puffer vest under my oxfords. Jesus.

  17. “For some reason”? As all pollsters know, the answers you get depend on the questions you ask.

  18. OK, but I felt like there was some obtuseness in the “I’d just wear a sweater” remarks. That’s what the fourth answer is for.

    Anway, fixed.

  19. The polo worn under an oxford is mentioned in Birnbach’s iconic “Preppy Handbook”, so I would infer that there is some history to suggest it’s use as such.

    Scan of the page in question can be seen here:

  20. *its
    thanks autocorrect

  21. If I recall correctly, several freshman knaves thought they’d try and swim against the trad predominance on our campus with this type of layering. I’m sure it was guided by a GQ/details/euro-trash piece they’d read. We swiftly let them know how “cool” they looked. This was in the days before society had coined social Darwinism as “bullying.”

  22. Regardless of the temperature, I don’t see how wearing a polo underneath an OCBD makes a lot of sense as an OCBD (even one made with the thickest fabric) isn’t even comparable to a light jacket in terms of warmth so why not just wear a sweater over the polo if you think a layer may have to come off at some point? It also kind of looks strange and where do you keep your OCBD once you take it off?. I keep my polos locked up until spring at the earliest but if someone responds with pictures from Take Ivy 7 or whatever of kids rolling around the Dartmouth campus in late spring with OCBD’s draped over their shoulders, I may reconsider my stance.

  23. The guy in the turtleneck looks like he’s recovering from throat surgery. The guy with the polo looks like he just graduated from UVa, something most of us would avoid. Personally, I wear old wool shirts in the winter (Pendleton, Filson, and M-37, Shirt, Enlisted). Under them I wear old gray t-shirts, without which I’d be scratching myself like a heroin addict.

  24. In the winter I frequently wear an oxford shirt under a flannel plaid or tartan shirt. Good layering look.

  25. I voted neither. OCBD, sweater, jacket and overcoat. If that doesn’t do it, call a cab or relocate to a warmer city!

  26. I have worn an OCBD over a polo shirt on a cool summer evening while sitting on my porch. I don’t normally button it. It is not something that I would normally where outside of my home.

  27. If I were to do either, I’d probably opt for a turtleneck, though my darling wife has said that I ought not buy one of those until I’m well over the hill. I can see a polo under a cotton crewneck sweater, but not under a button down shirt.

  28. Either, but it mostly depends on what’s clean. 😉

  29. I never ever wear polo shirts under any circumstances. They’re just utterly vile to me, and I’ll never own one.

    While I don’t hate turtlenecks the way I hate polo shirts, I find them impractical. It’s like a scarf that you can’t take off. As soon as you step indoors you start to overheat.

  30. Thody Evans | January 19, 2015 at 1:28 pm |


    Is there anything other than a polo shirt that a gentleman can wear in the summer?

  31. WWFD? What would Fred Do? Wear both but with Paint Splashes.

    I remember how awful this looked in the eighties and nothing really has changed now. It’s probably worse with Sprez-tards and #menswear iGents at every turn of the interwebs…

  32. When I get home from work, I take off my sport coat or blazer and I’ll wear a flannel or chamois shirt over the oxford. Sometimes I’ll wear a hoodie over the oxford (GASP!).

  33. Dave
    One could make the argument that a Gloverall is a “hoodie”. 😉

  34. Remember those hideous “Dickies”.

  35. I voted for both turtlenecks and polos as layering pieces. I find polos great for a little extra warmth, without over doing it. This is particularly key for transitioning between multiple temperatures around my office. Last Friday I wore a polo under an OCBD and received several compliments from prep friends–even if I did look a little like Bob Ross. A new white turtleneck is on my purchase list, with the intent to layer it under button-downs, sweaters, and jackets.

  36. Thody Evans: There are a number of short-sleeved shirts other than a polo shirt that a gentleman may wear in the summer, e.g., a unbanded open-necked “camp” shirt, a simple white shirt with pointed collar, a safari-style shirt with flapped pockets, or a chambray work shirt with subtle little details that tell the world that the shirt is expensive and wearer does not really work for a living. Or the gentleman can wear a light-weight long-sleeved button-down when in the presence of other gentlemen, or a t-shirt or wive-beater when alone or with his family. The latter goes well with beer and a cigar.

  37. This just in : AEV spotted while wearing a Vineyard Vines tee shirt under an oxford in Georgetown !

  38. E, don’t forget that Fred would button only one of the OCBD collar buttons, in a painful and grotesque attempt at sprezzatura.

    What’s next for Fred: only one sock? Mismatched shoes?

  39. Roy R. Platt | January 20, 2015 at 11:27 am |

    Those who bought a copy of “The Official Preppy Handbook” in a bookstore in 1980 might still remember that it was in the “Humor” section, not in the “Fashion” or “Bible” sections. The “Official Preppy Handbook”, like it’s most similar predecessor, “Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang”, is a joke book.

    Those who were not buying books in 1980 (possibly because they were not born yet) but bought a copy of “True Prep” in a bookstore in 2010 should remember that “True Prep” was also in the “Humor” not in the “Fashion” or “Bible” sections.

    Both “The Official Preppy Handbook” and “True Prep” should be considered in the same class as websites like “The Onion” or “The Daily Currant” or television “News” programs on the Comedy Central channel and should not be quoted as sources of actual facts.

  40. @Roy R. Platt

    The Library of Congress, has classified the book in the category
    ”Preparatory schools – United States – Handbooks, manuals, etc.”

  41. @Etymologue

    You seem to be mistaken, sir. I just checked, and the Library of Congress has it classified under “Preppies-Humor”.

  42. Those who bought a copy of “The Official Preppy Handbook” in a bookstore in 1980 might still remember that it was in the “Humor” section, not in the “Fashion” or “Bible” sections. The “Official Preppy Handbook”, like it’s most similar predecessor, “Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang”, is a joke book.

    Those who were not buying books in 1980 (possibly because they were not born yet) but bought a copy of “True Prep” in a bookstore in 2010 should remember that “True Prep” was also in the “Humor” not in the “Fashion” or “Bible” sections.

    Both “The Official Preppy Handbook” and “True Prep” should be considered in the same class as websites like “The Onion” or “The Daily Currant” or television “News” programs on the Comedy Central channel and should not be quoted as sources of actual facts.

    Because it should be repeated and re-read.

    I remember the tongue in cheek advertising in the bookstores for The Preppy Hand Book. Funny how so many blogs, forums, and idiots use it as a source of reference.

  43. Not this again. Grossly overstated. There are only two ways to read this text, as a bible literalist or as a “joke”?

    Here’s CC’s simple summary, based on being an English major and having a feel for prose tone and intention as well as my interview with the author:

    Accurate reporting delivered in a mildly irreverent tone.

  44. I used to do the polo-shirt-under-oxford thing, also the polo-shirt-under-shetland and the more daring polo-shirt-under-oxford-under-shetland. Then there was the even more recherche polo shirt over turtleneck. Many of these were affectations but, in a northeastern clime, warm ones. I don’t really do it anymore. I do occasionally wear a long-sleeved polo under a flannel shirt.

    NB: The outfit is still a favorite of Dorie Friend, former president of Swarthmore College and profiled in Tad Friend’s book Cheerful Money.

  45. Never wore anything other than a V-neck T shirt under an OCBD. I don’t think either the polo or the turtleneck looks good. Unless you’re a German submarine officer, I think a turtleneck looks foppish.

    Anyone remember the Silva Thins ads from the 60’s, including the wrap around sunglasses?

  46. PS:

    I think I’ll hop on to YouTube, and listen to Dobie Gray’s “Incrowd”.

  47. When visiting Baraga, Michigan in February, I like to start with a Henley under a turtle neck under a polo knit ( collar popped of course ) under a OCBD, under a crew neck Shetland under a down jacket under a duffle coat with wool scarf. Long underwear, two pair of flannels pants under wind proof poplins pleated pants. Weejuns don’t work, so four pair of Wigwam wool hunting socks and mukluks. Really warm mittens are also a necessity and avoid exposed metal.

  48. Christian,
    Thank you for confirming the fact that the reporting in TOPH was, indeed, accurate.

  49. Something can be “accurate” and also satirical. That’s what TOPH is. Which means that to utilize it as a reference guide for current attire, style or as guide for “right vs. wrong” is to blatantly fall into it’s trap. TOPH shouldn’t be aspirational – as many readers here clearly define it – it should be a critical reflection point regarding the boundaries of self-respecting “preppy” style. Dressing up like the caricatures in the book makes you a cartoon – just like the drawings themselves.

  50. We always talk about the book in generalities. How many pages is it, 200 or so? Let’s use a random number generator and pick a page and all look at it and analyze it for:

    reported facts

  51. Oh, and could one of you satire experts please explain to me the meaning of the post-attack Charlie Hebdo cover?

    There’s Muhammad with a sign reading “I am Charlie” while above is the line “All is forgiven.”

    As has been reported, it’s a satirical magazine. Therefore what is the intended meaning of the cover?

  52. They were looks I used to see (and wear) in prep school in the late 70s and early 80s: polo shirt under oxford, turtleneck under oxford under shetland crew neck, polo shirt over turtleneck, polo shirt under oxford shirt under shetland crew neck. Now such combinations look juvenile to me, and I wear these shirts one at a time.

  53. I, too, was unable to decipher the intended satire, if, in fact, any was intended.

    Here’s what the cartoonist said, if we choose to believe him:

  54. Boston Bean | January 22, 2015 at 5:48 am |

    The irony is that the cartoon which was supposed to depict him forgiving the so-called blasphemy of the cartoonists was itself considered to be blasphemous by his followers.

  55. Vern Trotter | January 22, 2015 at 5:54 am |

    I, at first, believed the cartoonist was expressing forgiveness, the Christian forgiving his enemies, turning the other cheek, that sort of thing.

    Now it appears, according to his comments, he is simply being defiant, saying that he is still free to say what he pleases. Fair enough, I guess.

  56. What’s interesting about TOPH is that it is colored by your background. I remember the book and the year or so it was relevant. The observations within the book were general enough to be somewhat accurate. To call it reporting is a gross misrepresentation though. It’s a product of the time in which it was written.

    Personally, I have never liked the book or the information contained within. Using a book intended as good natured humour as a reference point just demonstrates an immature personal style.

    TYhe brits understand that the Sloane Ranger Handbook was comedy, why don’t we have the same understanding here?

  57. As others have pointed out in the past, for many of us growing up in small towns, or LA, TOPH was no less than a guidebook to dressing in a “civilized” manner.

  58. For me the choice is obvious: I hate those short-sleeved polos from the bottom of my heart, so I don’t even own a single one, whereas I love turtlenecks: My only way to wear collared button-up shirts is with a turtleneck underneath, be it a plaid flannel shirt or a dressier kind of button-up, even with a tie added (only during the cold season, of course). If the shirt collar is not too tight, I find it a great feeling to wear the shirt buttoned all the way up over the turtleneck that I usually let peek out a little bit. That is also the only way I sometimes wear a (long-sleeved sweater-style) polo: Fully buttoned over a turtleneck, or as a third layer over turtleneck and buttoned-up shirt.

  59. AEV has it right – accurate and satirical at once. I can recall an outfit it described 35 years ago – eggshell cords worn with a plaid flannel button down and a knit tie. That would still look good.

  60. Good point, LL, for those growing up in small towns or LA, or most places in America during the disco era of the 70s, TOPH advised that if you can own only one sportcoat, a blue blazer is a good choice; if you don’t own a suit, pair that blazer with grey flannel trousers (in a traditional cut, not bell bottoms) and it will take you pretty far; and an oxford shirt from Brooks is a better choice under that blazer than a 70s polyester disco shirt. All of that is sound advice.

  61. I was a college freshman in 1979-80 when TPH was a widely passed-around humor book. The only guy in our dorm who wore this layered look was called “Chief 2 Shirts.” It’s an incredibly dated and uncomfortable style to wear. Of course, I was a blue collar type at a big public state U in New England, my friends who attended Bates introduced me to hordes of these guys, many who were actual preps.

  62. Both polo’s and turtlenecks were standard fare in my Jr. High, High School and college days in the 70’s and 80’s! It was simply about the layering of the clothes you had. I don’t see the cotton turtlenecks around much these days but I think the younger folks don’t get the concept of turtlenecks in general! At least its that way with my college age sons!

  63. Boston Bean | January 25, 2015 at 1:51 am |

    The turtleneck under the unbuttoned shirt was, I believe, an American alternative to the ascot (what the Brits call a “day cravat”), dating from a time when showing the neck, not to mention chest hair, was considered déclassé.

  64. I thought everyone should know I’m walking through the snow to the post office with a turtleneck under a polo under an oxford under a sweater under a coat.

  65. E.Conrad Urquart | January 29, 2015 at 3:29 pm |

    Turtleneck for skiing. Polo for nothing. Nothing for everyday.
    Quilted jacket, being that it is in the picture, in the market for a new one. I have had a barber for 10 years, any recommendations on a better jacket? Preferably quilted again.

  66. @E.Conrad Urquart I’m the one who posted the first picture to the Facebook group. That particular quilted jacket is the Cadwell Quilted Bomber by Polo Ralph Lauren, and you can find more pics of it worn in this post from my blog:

    I’m not sure how it compares to Barbour’s offerings, but I’ve had it for a little over a year now and am very happy with it. The construction feels solid, the look is classic and I love the corduroy accents on the mock neck collar and inner cuffs. The exact model is still available online, albeit in large sizes:

    They usually come out with similar models every season. I have also heard good things regarding Lavenahm quilted jackets, though I cannot personally vouch for their quality.
    Hope this helps!

  67. I voted either, as either is correct.

    The people who voted neither are obviously not preppies. And that is just fine, naturally. It keeps the “code” intact.

  68. In the mid-eighties the turtle-neck (but funnily enough referred to as ‘polo necks’) was a relatively common winter option. A short-sleeved polo shirt worn in this way seems to be nothing more than a comedic device. Surely the simple solution is to wear a pullover on top of your shirt if it’s cold. If your neck is cold, do the top button up and wear a tie. I have seen many an advert or fashion shoot where the short sleeved polo shirt is worn over an OCBD but I have always presumed this was simply to get more merchandise onto the model and into the picture. Anyway, under or over, simply dreadful.

  69. Jimmy McNemenemy | September 13, 2017 at 5:23 am |

    Oxford is a place therefore a proper noun which you should always spell with a capital first letter, Oxford.

  70. Either clothing item has its roots in the layered, practicality of traditional dress. Prior to Gor-Tex, the turtleneck was an essential under-layer when skiing, rolled-up to protect the neck and chin. After the slopes, the OCBD outer layer made it quickly presentable for ‘apres ski’ socializing (while also trading your ski boots for Weejuns). The polo shirt under-layer has to do with the rigors of active prep school life, involving activities from sports to ‘uniformed’ studies. One must wear his OCBD to class, then quickly peel the layer off and hang it in his locker (maybe even with a locker loop). He would then be wearing his (socially-acceptable) collared sport shirt—ready to go for tennis, lacrosse et al. As for wearing either of these out and about—only the turtleneck, and only if you’re at a ballgame and it’s really cold.

  71. whisdeydent | April 12, 2019 at 8:41 am |

    Chiming in four years after the original post, I say neither. Both look like you’re trying too hard to look like you’re not trying too hard.

  72. Turtleneck. And pearls. I have also added navy blazer. Especially useful when traveling light and needing to layer for the weather. I admit it is a habit I picked up in school in the 70s.

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