There are few things in this life which send out the message 'Vive le France' quite as well as...
a) Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People
b) A freshly baked baguette
c) The tricolor
d) Bastille Day
e) A black polo-neck jumper.
It is this fifth and final symbol that piques my interest. Why? Because the black polo neck jumper is, in my opinion, the quintessence of style. It does not simply suggest post-modernism, the black polo-neck IS post-modernism in sartorial form. It is being and nothingness at the same time.
Indissociable from the academics, and the evocation of existential discussions over cups of coffee and countless cigarettes, so the black polo neck performs the role of symbol. The symbol of modernism and post-modernism and the academe, that is.
And yet, as well as being symbolic, in its under-statedness, its simple elegance and negation of colour, so the jumper is a blank canvas; a nothingness that is able to absorb brash, oversized jewellery and richly patterned scarves. This fantastically philosophical quality gives the black polo neck a certain allure: a kind of lofty appeal, strewn with the suggestion of abstract thoughts and slight disdain and irreverent chic.
Perhaps it is this quality that makes the polo-neck so versatile. More so than most garments, this one bridges that gap between formal and casual wear to create the mysterious hybrid that we all know and love, yet is so difficult to pin down: smart casual. As a term, smart-casual is, well, a little tacky, but the black polo-neck is not. Far from it. It is abundant with Je ne sais quoi.
Worn on the right person, it is beyond words (although I shall continue to try and capture the essence of this garment using such linguistic containers; limited though they are). Think of Audrey Hepburn in her black turtle-neck in Funny Face. Nothing expresses a sense of gamine joie de vivre better than her in that outfit. She made that sweater iconic.
Luckily for Hepburn, her graceful, swan-like neck was able to carry off the look with tremendous élan. With a sufficiently long neck, a black polo-neck jumper will serve to elongate. However, take heed short-necked folk out there (you know who you are): le polo-neck noir will serve you no favours. It will, in fact, truncate your neck and make it look shorter than it already is. Sorry.
All in all, the black-polo neck is an adaptable garment, but context is everything. Worn incorrectly and you run the risk of looking shabby (without the 'chic'). But for times when monochrome is the order of the day, or you want your accessories to sing, or you want to recline in the Café de Flore and talk about how one becomes a woman rather than is born one, then look no further.