I posted the buy to TikTok and Instagram, and the messages of people’s memories of the sweater started to pour in. That sweater defined elementary, middle, and high school, as well as college years, for people at a time that felt, at least from what I remember, happy. It was pre-9/11 and when maximalism had just started to enter mainstream fashion, a sweet spot in the industry.
Bise, who worked at Gap from 1996 to 2000, remembers the sweater fondly. “The catchphrase for Gap for Holiday 2000 was “Holiday Is Here,” and nothing epitomized that feeling more than The Chunky Turtleneck Sweater,” Bise says. “This thick cotton item was a significant change for Gap. The company had offered much sleeker silhouettes for the previous several seasons, so this item appealed to a wider range of customers in age and body shape.”
The chunky version of that sleek silhouette, and those wild stripes, was the brainchild of former Gap designer Elliot Staples. He initially thought up a thinner version in 1996 named the Crazy Stripe Sweater, which was crafted from neutral and rainbow lambswool and came in a crewneck form. “Of course, the rainbow one was the clear winner, and it became an instant Gap icon,” writes Staples. A best seller, Gap revisited the design in 2000, transforming it into the Chunky Turtleneck. It was shown on four models in three shades. Staples talks about the feeling at Gap at the time, which reflects the optimistic boom beyond the brand and of retail as a whole. “The mood at The Gap then was incredible. Womens was performing and growing. It was all about killer items in amazing colors. Everyone knew it would be an instant success. I remember presenting the sweater on a group of 10 models all wearing the same turtleneck sweater but in different colors,” Staples writes. “Back then, the simplest of ideas created such excitement.”
There are plenty of people in whatever industry they are in—fashion or not—who have messaged me about why they love this sweater, from model Martha Hunt to my high school friend Ashley. Actor Lauren Servideo found one on Poshmark for $8. “It was hard to say no,” she says. “I wanted to feel like a little sprite from the noughties.” Many note that they had different iterations, like record label PR Sarah Mary Cunningham who remembers, “I had the striped sweater that had a HOLD on all the girlies. No turtleneck, but it was from ’99 and I wore it all senior year and through college.” For those younger generations who were in diapers when the Chunky Turtleneck was first released, they credit Wildflower phone case founder, influencer, and love of all naughties hauls, Devon Lee Carlson, for popularizing the sweater. In December 2020, she wore the sweater underneath a pair of overalls with a similarly colorful knit Chanel bag. The Carlson effect is still strong and under my Instagram post, one commenter even wrote: “was looking for one on Depop and saw that someone had listed it for $250 as the ‘Devon Lee Carlson’ sweater.”
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