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What is a Cowl Neck?

By G. Melanson
Updated May 21, 2024
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A cowl neck is a neckline that resembles an unstructured, floppy turtleneck and drapes below the collarbone. It is most often featured on both short sleeve and long sleeve sweaters which have been knitted from such fabrics as wool, cashmere, and angora, or synthetics such as acrylic. This design also suit certain types of formal wear such as wedding dresses, provided the fabric has the right draping qualities. The cowl neck style is said to have been inspired by early Grecian fashions, which specialized in draped garments that didn’t conform to the body’s contours.

Modern cowl necks are usually featured on clothing in combination with fitted sections of the garment. Even sweaters with this type of neckline that feature heavy draping in certain areas, such as wide bell-shaped sleeves, will usually also feature fitted sections such as a tapered waist in order to retain the wearer’s silhouette. Cowl necklines are especially flattering to small-chested figures as the extra draping of the fabric can add volume to the bust area.

Cowl necks can be shaped in various ways that transform the overall look of the garment. For example, it can be straightened into a boat neckline or “boat neck” by pulling the fabric up over the collarbone and toward the shoulders. Some cowl necks can even be stretched over the back of the head to form a hood if there is sufficient fabric in the draping. Cowl necks are sometimes also sold as separates, along with other wraps such as shawls, capes, ponchos, and shrugs. The neck may also fold off to the side or feature zippers or buttons down the center of the garment or along the neck and shoulder.

In the new millennium, cowl necklines have become a popular feature on cable-knit tunics, particularly in gray wool and other natural fabrics. Tunics with this type of neckline have become an especially popular staple in maternity wear as the folds of fabric conceal bumps and allow ample room for growth in the stomach area.

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Discussion Comments
By StreamFinder — On Jan 21, 2011

I have to say, the black cowl neck dress is the new little black dress style of choice, at least around where I live.

I have never been a huge fan of cowl necks to begin with, but I have to say that when worn appropriately, they can be very flattering.

Though I still think that a sweater is better cowl neck style than a dress, a little sleeveless cowl neck dress can be a lifesaver if you are often transitioning between work and socializing, since all you have to do is add or remove a cardigan or wrap to move from work to social.

I would recommend against going with straight silk cowl necks unless you are very, very slim though -- I see a lot of my co workers wearing silk cowl neck blouses or dresses, and since silk has so little give, it just ends up looking too tight or just weird.

Anyway, that's my two cents worth on cowl necks...what do you all think about them?

By galen84basc — On Jan 20, 2011

I think that cowl neck shirts and sweaters just look so nice -- something about the way the cloth drapes can make even a very simply designed article of clothing look elegant.

It really is amazing what those extra three inches or so of cloth can do -- just having a little drapery effect is so flattering.

And the good thing about cowl necks is that they're pretty much universally flattering, whether you have a big bust or a small bust. If you have a larger bust, the right kind of cowl neck can be flattering, yet not attention drawing for a good minimizing effect.

However, if you have a smaller bust, a more complex, drapey-er cowl neck can liven up the chest area and make your bust look larger.

So see, something for everyone!

By closerfan12 — On Jan 17, 2011

Cowl necks tops are great, but you do have to make sure that you get the right degree of floppiness, if you want it to look right.

It's a fine line between a cowl neck that is way too loose and goes down to your stomach and one that is way too tight and might as well just be a t-shirt.

The best type of cowl neck garments are those that open just to the top of your decollete. Some people tend to see cowl necks as a way to put all the goods on display, if you know what I mean, but that's really just not the most flattering look -- it just looks like your shirt is too big.

So, go for one that is loose, yet not too loose. In clothing, as well as in advertising, anticipation is key.

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