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This article was published in partnership with Artsy, the global platform for discovering and collecting art. The original article can be seen here. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Trivial as it seems, that detail seemed to shed light on her character. According to one former employee, Holmes’s taste in sweaters was a conscious channeling of the late Apple supremo Steve Jobs, who was rarely pictured without one of the many black Issey Miyake turtlenecks he owned. His maverick reputation was associated with his trusty wardrobe staple, his black turtlenecks projecting a cool intellect and general unfussiness. They suggested that he was a different kind of businessman — a “visionary” who did not play by the boardroom rules. Had he dressed like Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos, would we really remember him as anything other than an uncommonly shrewd CEO?
There’s an obvious question here: How did a basic item of clothing come to accumulate such lofty signifiers? The answer lies in its very simplicity. The turtleneck’s appeal rests largely on what it is not: It makes the classic shirt-and-tie combination look priggish and the T-shirt appear formless and slobbish, hitting that otherwise inaccessible sweet spot between formality and insouciance. It is sufficiently smart to be worn under a suit jacket, yet casual and comfortable enough for repeated everyday wear.
Developed in the late 19th century as a practical garment for polo players (hence the British name for it: the “polo neck”), it was originally a utilitarian design largely worn by sportsmen, laborers, sailors and soldiers. But by the dawn of the 20th century, European proto-bohemians were already seeing possibilities in the garment’s elegant functionality, which chimed harmoniously with embryonic modernist design ideals.