you might think they were the greatest invention of the 21st century. We see them on sale all over Etsy, advertised in Vogue, worn on the fashion runways in Milan, NY and Paris.. this omnipresent garment we call the “neck warmer”.
Whoa… let’s back up a bit to Henry David Thoreau, who wrote the following in the mid 1800s:
“I never wear my best coat on a journey, though perchance I could show a certificate to prove that I have a more costly one, at least, at home, if that were all that a gentleman required. It is not wise for a traveler to go dressed. I should no more think of it than of putting on a clean dicky and blacking my shoes to go a-fishing; as if you were going out to dine, when, in fact, the genuine traveler is going out to work hard, and fare harder,—to eat a crust by the wayside whenever he can get it. Honest traveling is about as dirty work as you can do, and a man needs a pair of overalls for it. As for blacking my shoes in such a case, I should as soon think of blacking my face."
So what exactly was this “dicky” he spoke of?? Nothing more than a false shirt front, usually worn with full evening dress. Of course the ladies also had their version, to use under those close fitting jackets so popular in that day.
Then about 100 years later… along came the beat generation who raised the turtleneck sweater to the heights of bohemian fashion… and it wasn’t long before the knit dicky followed. A sort of mini poncho with a turtleneck that could be worn under a shirt with the collar open for that “beat” look.
It was about this time that the grand dame of American knitting, Elizabeth Zimmermann, introduced us to her knitted dickies in Wool Gathering #40. She wrote:
“We call ‘em Dickeys. They go around the human neck in parky weather and keep it snug and secure. Since they must first pass over the human head, the more stretchable they are, the better. In fact, they should (and even must) be knitted; why else would I be telling you about them? Consider the circumference of the human head and neck; the Dickey must be obliging enough to stretch comfortably over the actual head, yet snuggle down around the neck of the victim when the time comes. Let us bless the elasticity of handknitting, and cast on sufficient stitches to fit either circumference equally well - neither too tight, nor, go save us, too sloppy. Not only do they warm and protect your neck and upper chest, but, work under a turned up shirt collar, they look very sporting indeed. A Dickey is a good beginning-knitter’s project, so let’s start with one in thickish wool, involving a few interesting details.”
So… the next time you see a cowl or neck warmer on Eetsy, at Macy’s, Nieman Marcus or in the window of a Prada or Dolce and Gabbana boutique… remember its origins and how simple it really would be to make!If you would like to try your had at it, you might want to try Kristin's Kowl, a pattern I designed to help keep my lovely cousin Kristin’s neck warm as she fights her battle with scleroderma. It’s free, it’s simple, it’s chic!