Unless you raided your dear mother’s jewelry box when you were younger or ran around South East Asia on your gap year like Leonardo DiCaprio in The Beach, chances are, as a man, you’ve never thought about thrusting a chain over your head.
But with an ever-increasing roll call of the coolest men in the world now opting for the men’s necklace (Gosling, Hemsworth, Rocky – need we say more?) and shifting attitudes towards a much-needed blurring of the previously gender stereotyping in fashion (men wear watches, women wear jewelry – let’s all groan in unison) now is as good a time as any to experiment with a chain over your head.
Here we take a look at everything you need to get started, from picking the right pendant and length of chain to how you can fit it effortlessly into your already assembled wardrobe.
Men weren’t always so averse to a bit of bling around the scruff. The ancient Egyptians were proponents, studding their sheet gold neck wraps and strung beads with amulets and talismans to protect and bring luck to the wearer.
Men of the Renaissance period were also fans with the extremely wealthy lavishing all manner of plaques, chains and pendants upon themselves as well as stupendous gem-laden creations that would stretch to their shoulders. Don’t believe us? Check out Henry VIII in his famous portrait by Hans Holbein, sporting a herculean gold chain that would put Run DMC to shame.
This male love-in with the necklace died out in the 1600s, but returned in the second half of the 20th century when chains once again went from pious symbols of religion to conspicuous signifiers of wealth. Dog tags, Elvis and disco played their parts, but it was in hip-hop fashion that necklaces became the ultimate symbol of decadence with artists punching through the social hierarchy, the ice hanging around their necks offering proof of how far they’d climbed.
In the last decade, men’s jewelry has evolved again, now more of a fashion accessory than anything else. Necklaces have sashayed down the men’s catwalk for the likes of Prada, Balmain and Raf Simons in recent seasons. And from high to low, even those unlikely fellas from reality TV show Love Island have been dolling up their perma-tanned torsos with online jewelry retailer Jewlr reporting a 500 percent increase in sales of men’s necklaces while the show was on the air.
“Men wearing jewelry is definitely having a renaissance,” says Alex Simpson, founder of men’s jewelry brand Alex Orso. “There has been a 1990s streetwear revival in recent seasons, which has seen chains, pendants, medallions and rings rise in popularity. This has been picked up on Instagram and street style blogs, which in turn has influenced the styling of characters on mainstream reality TV to create a self-perpetuating trend which I don’t believe has reached its crescendo yet.”
The first step to making like the Pharaohs and the catwalk waifs is to pick out your necklace – starting with the material of your chain and then the pendant to add the unique styling that has made them so popular. “A necklace should feel comfortable and casual almost like a family heirloom,” says Michael Saiger, founder and creative director of US-based jewelry company Miansai.
An oxidized sterling silver chain offers a more masculine and timeless vibe with the color shade working best in winter months underneath tailoring and next to navy blues and grey. A yellow gold chain is brighter creating a contrast that really pops against black while complimenting warmer tones like orange and brown.
If you’re looking for a casual necklace to fit with a more dressed-down style, then consider waxed cord which especially suits the summer months and days flaunting around the pool while a beaded necklace might have worrying gap year connotations but can add bulk and width to a skinny neck while drawing attention to a sharp jawline (if you’re blessed with one) and works well in combination with other chains.
There are also plated metals to consider but Saiger recommends sticking to the golden two if you are concerned about your skin reacting to the chain. “It’s always best to stick with only sterling silver and solid gold if you have sensitive skin. Those types of metals are extremely fine, and will not react to your skin regardless if you sleep with them or wear them just for the day.”
Aside from the material, there are also different chain designs with the interconnected oval links of a cable chain being the most common. Different chain designs will alter the feel and look of the necklace like the bulkier mesh chain (several different chains linked together for a textured look), the sturdy curb chain (interlocked links designed to lay flat) and the ever-so-fancy Figaro chain (an alternating pattern of differently sized flattened links).
The most common length of the chain is between 18 and 22 inches, which will sit just below your collarbone while a long necklace will be around 26 to 30 inches long with the pendant hanging around your chest area. A longer chain will help elongate the neck while drawing attention to a broad chest, while a shorter chain will be more readily visible. Anything shorter than 18 inches and you’re getting into choker territory.
“We offer two lengths of chain with the longer length having a more relaxed feel for a night out,” says Simpson, “while the shorter length is to be worn with more formal pieces like a shirt.”
It’s also worth layering multiple chains and experimenting with varying lengths at any one time, with beads working particularly well in a shorter length against a longer chain.
“Long pendant-style necklaces work well over either a loose crew neck or a V-neck T-shirt so the pendant follows the line of the V,” says Sarah Gilfillan, founder of personal styling consultancy Sartoria Lab. When putting together your outfit and necklace, Gilfallan also suggests matching metals for a more considered and put together look. For example, if you’re stepping out with a silver watch on your wrist and a silver buckle around your belt, go for that metal in your necklace choice too.
When it comes to the rest of your clothing choices, the offbeat addition of a necklace suits a casual look such as a white T-shirt and leather jacket according to Gilfillan. “If you do want to wear it with tailoring, I’d go for an open neck shirt with a simple chain showing at the neck of the shirt. If you want to make more of a statement and go for full-on 1980s look, then wear your shirt done up to the top with no tie but with a chain or pendant that is worn over the top of the shirt. Also, ensure your shirt collar is fairly small and neat, and avoid button downs so your necklace can be the point of focus.”
And to kill off two trends with one stone, Gilfillan regards the men’s necklace as the perfect accompaniment to the laissez-faire attitude of a Cuban collar shirt. “The current open neck camp collar shirt styles are perfect for showing off multiple necklaces. Wear with an extra button open to show off those necklaces, and style with slim cut turned up jeans and trainers, mixing gold and silver pendants and chains together for a contemporary look”.