What’s linked, metallic, and looks like it belongs in the late ‘90s? A chain necklace. Or, it could be one, equally intricate, dangling off your belt, reminiscent of a skater’s wallet chain. Either way, both build upon two foundational trends: The growing market for men’s jewelry, and the ‘90s revival that started roughly five years ago. Yet, if you’d like to appear as a put-together adult, what options do you have?
This post may have affiliate links, meaning we earn a small commission on purchases through the links (at no extra cost to you). This does not change our opinion but does help support the site. Thank you!
While, on the menswear end, we associate belt chains with Limp Bizkit fans and teens who wore their tees and jeans two sizes too big, they were also a staple of womenswear campaigns during the period. Specifically, Chanel’s mid-‘90s swimwear ads included them to elevate and add a luxury angle to bright-colored two-pieces.
A few years later, you’d spot them loosely hanging around someone’s denim-covered hips, adding a metallic accent and frequently featuring geometric links.
For men, the chains themselves never ascended into that higher echelon, instead associated with suburban teens who copped most of their wardrobes from Hot Topic and PacSun. Through this semi-ironic lens, they’ve returned as a vestige of dad fashion – albeit without the whole “dad” descriptor – through one of the more predictable pathways, Vetements’ Fall 2016 show.
Instead of re-appropriate it, Demna Gvasalia’s brand went more on-the-nose, pairing it with leather minidresses and tartan prints – essentially, elevated Hot Topic fare.
Yet, although the accessory itself has garnered a reputation on par with Von Dutch hats, its roots, as with many menswear pieces, go back to a more practical origin. Specifically, chain wallets in their more modern form gained some degree of popularity in the 1950s, especially amongst biker circles.
The chain prevented the wearer from losing his wallet while in travel. At the time and again in the ‘90s, the chain clipped onto the wallet, which itself had a designated grommet for this purpose, and could be looped onto the wearer’s belt.
The most modern update frequently leaves the wallet out completely, settling on – or more appropriately evolving into – a belt accessory that clips on.
Seen in presentations by Balmain, Prada, Balenciaga, and Raf Simons, the chain may look traditional – long, approaching the wearer’s knees, and with some substance – or resembles jewelry, with variable links, embellishments, and multiple lengths. Essentially, it’s a very prominent, necklace-like ornament for your lower half.
From the 2000s onward, men’s necklaces ran narrow – nothing more than a leather band or a fine metal chain. Perhaps a pendant or dog tags hung at the middle, but unless you were inspired by the excess of period hip-hop music videos, you kept it simple. After all, based on advice at the time, a man’s jewelry collection begins and ends with a watch and cufflinks.
Yet, thicker, chunkier chains have come in and out of style for centuries. The last cultural resurgence started in the 20th century’s second half, covering Elvis and disco music and ending with hip-hop.
Through any lens, the metal shined, and the wearer never hid the piece. Rather, it hung around their necks as a symbol of wealth and decadence – as if to tell the audience, “See just how much cash I have?” Along these lines, large pendants, occasionally encrusted with diamonds, pushed this message a bit further.
However, the modern trend hasn’t come out of nowhere. Another ‘90s revival, it trails multi-chain and pendant necklaces that themselves built upon the single-strand and dog tag trends – both theoretically and literally in this case.
How to Wear Chains
Think About the Finish
The difference between reliving your youth and making more mature choices? In this case, it all comes down to the finish. Anything polished and gleaming seems sourced from a 20-year-old MTV video, and thus gives off the impression that you’re still an adolescent at heart.
Instead, seek out something matte or dark, if not slightly tarnished and oxidized in appearance. Beyond strict silver and gold, gun metal captures the shine in small doses, and solid black adds an understated touch to something that’s an otherwise bold choice.
Similarly, gold, no matter how matte you go, gives off warm vibes. As such, steer clear from reds, yellows, and oranges, and go toward neutral and cooler shades: think black, white, or blue. Purple, in darker variations, creates a luxurious pairing that’s far from loud.
Look at Links
Whether it’s for your neck or your belt, you have a couple of choices, excluding ornaments and similar embellishments. Oval links are the most common and have a fairly simple, traditional appearance.
Thicker mesh chains, on the other hand, have an almost woven, textured look without any clear links from a distance. The curb chain – in a bolder direction – seems lifted from an ‘80s hip-hop music video, with its flat-laying, somewhat angular interlocking links. A fourth option, the Figaro chain keeps things flat but uses a combination of large and smaller-sized links.
As a baseline, the typical men’s necklace runs 18 to 22 in. long, where it sits on your collarbone to your upper chest. At 26 to 30 in. long, the necklace, especially with a pendant, will hang at your chest’s center. For belt and wallet chains, consider something 24 in. or longer – just as long as it hangs above your knee and remains visible below your shirt and jacket.
Furthermore, for your upper half, realize that the greater the necklace’s length, the longer your neck appears. If your neck is particularly wide or muscular, lean more toward these chest-length options. The shorter you go, the more it starts to resemble a choker – great on someone lithe and androgynous like Harry Styles but one that will highlight a neck’s width regardless.
Even as you sport multiple chains, this rule applies. Regardless of links or ornaments, the shortest chain should sit at your collarbone and no shorter.
When it comes to your collar, avoid looking like The Simpson’s Disco Stu – that is, leave it buttoned up rather than opened down to the chest. So you don’t come off as an aging lothario, simply layer your necklace over the collar – whether it’s a point collar, button-down, or Cuban. Feeling a bit more adventurous? Tuck the necklace under, so it looks like a more substantial collar chain.