Unless you raided your dear mother’s jewellery 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 jewellery – 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.
The History Of Bling, From Henry VIII To 50 Cent
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 jewellery 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 jewellery retailer Jewlr reporting a 500 per cent increase in sales of men’s necklaces while the show was on the air.
“Men wearing jewellery is definitely having a renaissance,” says Alex Simpson, founder of men’s jewellery 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.”
Picking Your Metal
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 jewellery company Miansai.
An oxidised sterling silver chain offers a more masculine and timeless vibe with the colour 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).
Make The Pendant Personal
Now, you can of course just stick with the chain, but adding a pendant brings that oh-so-important personality to your look with the ability to turn heads and get the conversation flowing at a dinner party quicker than you can say “Jam Master Jay”. Proud wearer of the men’s necklace Ryan Gosling, has the tag of his beloved dog George attached to his chain, after he sadly passed away in 2017.
However, there’s no prescription for the pendant and it’d be foolish to just follow the lead of the celebs. Just keep your eye out for something that you connect with or can regale an anecdote through, whether it’s a letter or a diamond-encrusted dollar sign. “Ultimately any purchase is personal and based on a selection process,” says Simpson. “What are you attracted to? What complements your style? And what does it say to others about your character?”
Along with a personal touch, Saiger advises looking towards vintage designs in a pendant. “Something that merges the past with the present will always be in style.” For example, one of the key styles at Miansai is the rolled penny necklace which takes its inspiration from the old penny machines found in museums and amusement parks.
Also, note that particular pendants have different meanings. An anchor is an age-old symbol of strength with obvious ties to the sea, while a popular motif for Los Angeles based jewellery brand Nialaya is the Hamsa hand, which is believed to ward off evil spirits and bad luck in Middle Eastern and North African cultures. Other popular pendant styles are the holy cross with its connotations to Christianity, the skull which represents mortality and the feather which is the universal symbol of peace, pacifism and spiritual unity.
“In all scenarios, it must feel natural and should never make you feel self-conscious,” says Simpson. “Some pendants are quite bold or heavy, so it’s worth thinking about where and how long you might be wearing the product.”
Choose Your Length
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.
How To Wear It
“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, Gilfillan 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”.
The Best Brands For Men’s Necklaces
Hailing from Miami, the bling bling capital of the world, Miansai offers surprisingly subtle signature pendants on chains or waxed cord. Riffing on nautical themes that include anchors, hooks and long, lost treasure in timeless, elegant designs the brand is also favoured by the celebrity crowd with Hollywood actors Zac Efron and Tom Holland both spotted wearing it.
Since its founding in 1984 German jewellery company Thomas Sabo has become one of the leading brands in both women’s and men’s jewellery as well as having their designs legally protected worldwide so no-one can steal them for themselves. Its pendants aren’t for the faint-hearted mind, with Day of the Dead skulls and daggers aplenty as well as chunky and colourful beads.
If you were a British teenager in the 2000s there is every chance you raided the Topman bracelet section during your lunch hour with the high street chains necklace range similarly easy to pick up. Inexpensive, stylish and in a range of sizes and designs they make for good layering options with your more expensive pieces or as an entry point if you just want to dip your toes in the trend.
A London jewellery maker where the emphasis is on the men rather than the women, Tateossian has become the go-to place for luxury cufflinks in its 28-year history. That’s not to say it doesn’t make a smashing necklace, with some intriguingly unique designs including a diamond pill crafted in aid of the Elton John Aids Foundation and tiny pieces of meteorite sourced from South America.
Minimalist masculinity is the name of the game for London jewellery brand Alex Orso. With pendants in bold designs from 22-carat bottle caps and Komodo dragon claws to polished stone shark tooths, Alex Orso takes a compelling shape and simplifies it for the man who wants to enhance his look, not complicate it. Each pendant comes with a brass chain which you can choose in a short or long style.
Wanting to ignite your inner Keith Richards hipster pirate? Well, a Luis Morais necklace is the one for you with the Brazilian jeweller’s rock and roll vibe favouring the boho beads, colourful skulls and mystic stones the rocker has built his look on.
Of course no men’s style list would be complete without a tip of the hat to the Italians. And so we have Emanuele Bicocchi sauntering in for a welcome spritz of sprezzatura. Sterling silver reigns supreme in the Florence jewellery designers collection who has seen his quite gothic creations being worn by the likes of Zayn Malik and Russell Brand.
A Dane in America, less a well-trodden Hollywood story trope, more the perfect setting for Jannik Olander to launch spirituality inspired jewellery brand Nialaya. Handcrafted in a Los Angeles workshop, religious imagery from the East features prominently in the designs (especially from Buddhism) which are bang-on for the cosmo gent who wants it to look like he found himself in the local temple on his backpacking tour but really never left the side of the pool.
Excuse the name, Northskull is not some Danish death metal group born out of the depths of hell, rather it’s an elegant jewellery brand just for us boys. Based in London, reasonable price points and straightforward designs make it an easy choice for those guys who want the designer look to slot into their daily wardrobe without having to shell out on overpriced rosary beads.
If you’re worried that the addition of a necklace will have you come across all wannabe show-off rapper, then take a gander at the Sif Jakobs collection of pendants and tell us there is no subtlety in donning a necklace. The Scandinavian jewellery maker creates all its jewellery out of sterling silver and focuses its design on a similar rectangular design spun through various different twists.
The fashion brand of Made In Chelsea star and menswear influencer Oliver Proudlock, Serge DeNimes draws heavily on Proudlock’s taste and penchant for boho-chic necklaces. Ever the pacifist, the feather is a recurring motif in Proudlock’s collection as is the patron saint of travellers, Saint Christopher.