When it comes to jewelry staples, there are few more iconic than the chain necklace. It's been a popular choice for men and women for over a century with no sign of slowing down. Perfect for casual and formal occasions, a solid chain necklace is something to include in your wardrobe.
But what kind of chain is best for you? Knowing how to style a chain necklace and, perhaps more importantly, what style of necklace looks best for every occasion isn't always easy. With that in mind, we've created this helpful guide to the types of chain necklaces, how to wear them, and what necklace will elevate any outfit in your wardrobe.
HISTORY OF chain JEWELRY
Today, chain necklaces are ubiquitous. You find them just about everywhere and within every culture. They are worn by people of all genders, sex, age, and socioeconomic status.
Necklaces are likely the oldest form of adornment worn by humans. The earliest necklaces discovered date back to the Upper Paleolithic era - somewhere around 50,000 BP. They were found in South Africa and eastern Africa. Most were created using bone, feathers, or even plant material. It wasn't until much later that metallurgy became widespread.
With the advent of metalworking came chain jewelry. In the tomb of Queen Puabi (a ruler of ancient Babylonia – modern Iraq), they discovered beautiful, elaborate metal jewelry with many gold chains that would be worn around the neck or draped around the body.
This tomb, dating back to 2600 BP, tells us that chain adornments were present at that time. In ancient Egypt, craftsmen began threading silver and gold strands together for wear in a similar fashion. By the time the trend reached Greece a few centuries later, they had ample gold to craft not only into chains but also engraved pendants.
By around 300 BP, royalty, rulers, and the upper class around the world were buried with even more intricate chain jewelry. Often, they were inlaid with gemstones and other precious metals as a sign of their wealth and power. During the Renaissance, chains were a staple of men's and women's fashion for the nobility.
Men wore chains as a status symbol, connecting robes, and often paired with a badge or other symbol of their position. Henry VIII is often depicted with heavy gold chains draped across his chest. Clergy also wore them on their robes as a symbol of their status and position within the church. Noblewomen wore a variety of chain necklaces and bracelets inlaid with precious metals.
THE EDWARDIAN ERA
By the time the 1900s had rolled around, chains were incorporated more heavily into men's fashion. They were worn with pocket watches. Typically, the chain was attached to the watch and worn visibly hanging from the pocket of a waistcoat.
You can spot them in many early photographs of men until the 1940s. They later lost popularity in favor of wristwatches. The simple cable link and flat link chains were most popular during this era. However, you'll find some fancier options like the Albert chain from the earlier Victorian era.
THE MODERN ERA
In the 1930s, Coco Chanel brought chains into fashion by wearing them in public, often layered in various lengths and widths. Adding them to her personal style cemented them as a timeless way to add a posh touch to your outfits.
HIP HOP CULTURE
During the 1980s, chain necklaces had another resurgence in popularity among male hip-hop artists and rappers. Large, wide gold chains became another way to signal status and flashy accessories to their looks.
Artists like Slick Rick and Run DMC started the trend that was continued by other legendary artists like the Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z, and Doctor Dre. Chains have remained an important part of hip-hop culture even today!
POPULAR TYPES OF chain NECKLACES
Did you know that there are different types of chains used to make jewelry? While you might notice different styles, each of these comes with a specific name and is crafted in unique ways. Chain types also vary in popularity by demographics – some are more favored by men and others by women. We'll go over the most popular types below.
One of the most easily recognizable chain types, the snake chain closely resembles its namesake. It’s a tubular chain with very tight interlocking links that feel smooth in your hands. The chain is made from smooth round rings with a slight bend in the middle that are joined together in a flexible tube.
It can also be called a star weave chain, hexagon chain, and Brazilian chain. They are delicate-looking while still strong, making them popular for women to wear on their own. One appealing aspect of this chain type is that it does not tangle easily due to its smooth texture and tight construction.
While similar in appearance to a snake chain, the herringbone chain is constructed of flat, short, and parallel links in a v-pattern. Their name comes from the similarities to the skeleton of a herring (a type of fish).
They lie flat against the skin and vary in width greatly. While they might be worn with a small charm, they look best unadorned and never paired with a pendant of any size.
The box chain has many names. It’s also known as the briolette chain, square link chain, Venetian chain, and the book chain. They have a very smooth appearance because they are made from square links instead of the standard round or oval ones.
These cubed links give the chain a boxy appearance, hence the name. They are very popular for women’s jewelry.
Cable chains are plain but quite popular. Their simple design lends well to their use for both understated looks and fancier affairs. They are made of connecting identical oval links. Most likely, they are watching you think of first when imagining a chain necklace.
They are a smaller version of a standard iron cable chain that you might see used for construction or heavy-duty use. These are the most popular style for holding a pendant or may be layered with more visually interesting chains for a fun look.
Probably one of the most popular men’s style necklaces, the curb chain may be best known under its other name – the Cuban chain. This type of chain gained popularity in the late 70s and were first worn by men in Cuban communities in Miami. (The chain is also called a Miami Cuban chain for that reason).
In the 80s, they reached even more popularity among men as groundbreaking rappers and hip-hop stars began favoring the style for their performances and everyday wear. They never seem to go out of style, though their width and size vary depending on the era's fashion.
Curb chains are like the simple cable chain but with an important difference. The links have been flattened and twisted slightly so they lay flat against the skin. Each link is identical in shape and size, much like the cable chain. They vary in width from a few millimeters to an inch or more if one is wearing a statement necklace.
Also called the popcorn chain, the coreana chain originates from Italy and is often used for necklaces. These are lightweight, tubular chains created by linking a series of convex metal pieces.
Each link is identical in shape and size to the other. The overall chain looks puffed, which is why it is often called a popcorn chain. It looks like a popcorn garland.
A rope chain looks like strands of metal that have been twisted or woven together. The actual construction of the chain is via tiny links connected to one another to create the rope-like pattern you see. The final product looks like the chain is braided together. In most cases, the tighter the weave of the chain, the more expensive the chain is due to the metal involved in making it.
Rope chains became popular in the 80s thanks to hip-hop culture, as artists such as Run-DMC, LL Cool J, and Biz Markie incorporated them into their style.
Figaro chains are a variation on the cable chain. Instead of uniform links, the Figaro chain is created from flattened links in various sizes. They often are formed in repeating patterns.
For example, there may be 3-4 shorter links and then one longer one. This creates a visually interesting pattern on the chain. They are a simple Italian-style chain that is very popular to pair with pendants and easy to repair.
Another variation of the cable chain, Rolo chains are formed from round links instead of oval ones. Sometimes, the links may be D-shaped as well. They look more compact due to this design and often come in chunkier widths to enhance that appearance. They are also called the belcher chain.
A wheat chain is formed of very long, thin teardrop-shaped links that all point in the same direction. The join of each link is like a tiny hinge, meaning this style is not as flexible or liquid-like as some others. Wheat chains look more complex than others which gives them a unique and intricate appearance.
Ball chains are composed of small identical metal balls linked together with shorter lengths of metal wire. Each ball is hollow and is supported by two wire lengths on either side.
Ball chains are usually made of stainless steel or another durable metal. You will rarely see them in gold or silver. You may associate these with military style dog tags, as they are typically issued in such a fashion.
WHAT TYPE OF FINISHES are offered ON CHAIN NECKLACES?
Once you choose a style of chain for your necklace, you’ll need to think about what type of finish you’d like the necklace to have. There are many to choose from, including the following options.
The most common material for chain necklaces is stainless steel. Stainless steel is a common metal found in household appliances, finishings, and jewelry. Stainless steel is strong. You won't see jewelry deform or warp with the use or over time.
It's less prone to wear and tear, so it won't tarnish or discolor (provided you take care of it). High-quality stainless-steel jewelry - specifically that made from 316L medical grade stainless steel - is also hypoallergenic. That means it won’t aggravate any skin sensitivities or allergies.
Sterling silver is an alloy metal made from pure silver mixed with smaller amounts of trace metals to increase durability and shine. Sterling comes from an Old English term meaning "like a little star" to describe the sparkling, glowing gray shine of the metal. Today, it's one of the most popular materials for high-end jewelry, including chain necklaces.
Sterling silver is both durable and light. It is stronger than gold and more cost-effective. Jewelers love this metal because it is malleable and easy to mold into intricate designs.
Repairing silver necklaces is usually less complicated and expensive than fixing gold pieces. If you want more information about sterling silver, we recommend reading our guide - Finding the Perfect Silver Necklace.
PLATED OVER STAINLESS STEEL OR STERLING SILVER
High-end jewelry should be durable as well as beautiful. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to select jewelry that has a plating over a sturdy metal like stainless steel or sterling silver. Plating allows you to have the shine of gold or another color without making the entire piece out of that material.
Types of plating:
- Gold Plating
- Rose Gold Plating
- Black Plating
- Silver Plating
While gold is the most popular type of plating, you can also find high-quality silver plating (typically on stainless steel) or black ruthenium plating. You can find black plating on many types of chains, including this Black Premium Box Chain. The diamond cut on the metal makes sure you still get a beautiful sparkle even with darker plating.
SOLID 14K GOLD
Obviously, gold is a popular choice for jewelry. It’s a beautiful precious metal that has been used in jewelry-making for millennia. It’s a high-end option that is perfect for both formal occasions and casual wear. Gold adds a bit of glitz to any outfit and is popular with both men and women. It’s little wonder that
it’s so sought after and commonly used over time. You may also want to consider which type of gold you’d like: yellow, white, or rose. Gold is a soft metal. If you choose to go any higher than 14k gold, you may find the chain breaks easily and lacks durability.
If you choose a solid gold chain necklace, you'll want to decide whether you'd like a style that is solid gold throughout or one that is hollow. Like solid gold chains, hollow chains are made of gold, but the inside of chain links are hollowed out. While they look identical, the hollow chain necklaces are lighter and less expensive. They are also more delicate and may break more easily than their solid counterparts.
WHAT ARE THE MOST common lengths OF CHAIN NECKLACES?
Chain necklaces come in a variety of sizes and lengths. There is rarely a one-size-fits-all for everyone. Knowing what size you (or whomever you are buying for) prefers will make the process much easier. However, there are still some basic guidelines that most people fall under. Chain lengths typically differ by gender.
For most men, you will want to look at a chain length between 18-24 inches long. This depends on both the width of the neck and the desired fit. For most, a 20-inch chain will hit right around the collarbone and be visible even under many low-neck shirts. If you choose a longer fit, around 22 inches will place the chain beneath the collarbone and make it more prominent. If you want to add a pendant to the necklace, the added length is preferable.
If you want a layered chain look, you may want to start with an even longer chain length. With one up to 30 inches long, it typically drapes down to your chest. You can pair these with shorter chains. We wouldn't recommend going above 34-36 inches unless you are particularly tall.
There is a lot of variety in women's necklaces. For example, a choker can be anywhere from 14-16 inches long, while a long statement necklace can be as long as 36 inches. For most styles, however, you'll find that the average length ranges from 16 to 24 inches long. The most common length for a woman's chain necklace is 18 inches. This length is perfect for a chain paired with a pendant. If the chain is thicker, It can also make a stylish statement necklace. However, we do recommend a slightly longer length (and wider links) for statement chains so they will visually stand out against an outfit.
Here's a good size chart for chain lengths:
14" - 16". Choker style that fits around the neck or above the collarbone.
18". Princess style that fits at the collarbone and great to wear with a pendant.
20" - 24". Matinee stye that fits below the collarabone and above the bust.
26" - 36". Opera style that fits at the bust or below and great for layering.
If you want a more unisex look, you may want to consider a chain somewhere between 18-20 inches in length. This way the person can wear it on its own or pair it with a pendant.
TIPS FOR MATCHING A CHAIN LENGTH with different styles IN YOUR WARDROBE
While we've covered a wide range of topics in our guide, you may find yourself wondering exactly how this relates to your personal fashion. Choosing the perfect chain necklace for you – and the occasion you'll be wearing it -can be a bit tricky.
We've put together a list of tips to help you make the best selection for you. While most of these tips are oriented toward women, we will also try to add a few rules of thumb for men's fashion too!
THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU'RE WEARING
One of the most important things to consider when you're choosing necklace length is what clothing you are accessorizing. While some necklaces work for varied clothing styles, you will find that certain lengths look best when paired with certain clothing.
Shorter length chains will look best with open-neck clothing. You want to pair them with boatneck shirts, v-necks, scoop necks, and even off-the-shoulder tops. This will emphasize the length of your neck and add a nice point of contrast to showing even a small amount of skin there.
Anything that rests against the throat or at the collarbone is good for this style of clothing. However, if you go even shorter – at a collar- length necklace – you can wear that with almost everything. Collar style necklace can work with everything from halters to t-shirts with the right styling.
For high neck attire, you may want to consider a longer necklace. That style drapes well and makes your torso look longer and more proportional. (This can be important if you have a short waist, are more rectangular, or just boxy in general).
For men, you will want to consider whether you are wearing a shirt with a collar or not. If you are wearing a collared shirt, a shorter length chain will look nicer than a longer one, especially if you are wearing a shirt with one or two buttons undone.
WHAT METAL FINISH WILL LOOK BEST WITH YOUR OUTFIT?
Different outfits look better with different metals. Are there any metallic accents in your attire? What belt are you wearing? What colors are prominent in your look? You may want to match any other metals or either compliment or contrast with the colors of your clothing.
You may also want to think about how formal the occasion is – but more on that a little later.
WHAT BEST MATCHES YOUR SKIN TONE?
What metal looks best on you? Colors that compliment you best are often dependent on your skin tone. Skin tone in this context doesn’t mean how dark or light your skin is. It’s more about your skin’s undertones – warm, cool, or neutral. Certain metals look best on certain skin tones.
- Warm Tones. Complimentary metals for warm skin tones are yellow gold, warm gold, brass, or copper. Gemstones in yellow, green, or peach are probably going to look amazing on you!
- Cool Tones. If you have a cool skin tone, you typically look best in light or white metals. We recommend looking at silver, white gold, or platinum for jewelry. We’d also recommend gemstones like sapphire, carnelian, and amethyst.
- Neutral Tones. If you are one of the lucky people with a neutral skin tone – congratulations! Most metal (and colors) look great on you.
If you don’t know what your skin’s undertone is, here’s a great article on how to find yours! However, at the end of the day, you should wear the metal that you like best.
MATCHING YOUR JEWELRY TO YOUR PERSONAL STYLE
It’s really important to find something that speaks to you personally instead of going with the trendiest style of the moment. Some styles are more feminine or delicate compared to others.
If you wear clothing with lace and frills, you may gravitate towards a thinner chain. If you like bold fashion, you may want something thicker that stands out against your clothing.
LOOK AT HOW YOU ARE WEARING THE CHAIN
Are you going to wear the necklace under your collar or over it? If you want to wear your shirt over your necklace, you probably want to hit that typical length of 18-24 inches, as that will let you keep the necklace discrete without drawing a lot of attention to it.
CONSIDER ADJUSTABLE CHAINS
Sometimes, you want to pick up a versatile piece of jewelry that you can wear for a lot of occasions. Adjustable chains can accomplish this well for you! You can style it with multiple types of clothing from casual to more formal. This eliminates the need for multiple chains to wear with your favorite pendant.
CHOOSE A CHAIN LENGTH THAT WORKS FOR YOUR BODY
When choosing a chain necklace, it’s really important to consider how it’s going to look on you. Our bodies are all different. What works on one person may not look as flattering on another. As you’re choosing a chain necklace for yourself, you should think about where it’s going to lay on your body and what sort of look you want to accomplish.
When thinking about a good chain necklace length, you will want to consider a few things. First, how long is your torso? What hits you at the collarbones or mid-bust may be longer or shorter on other people.
Your height comes into play as well. Taller women can wear just about any necklace length. For shorter women, it’s better to go a little shorter in general.
Knowing the width and length of your neck helps too. If you have a shorter neck, you may find that short necklaces make your neck seem shorter (and possibly wider) than longer necklaces. It’s also true that those of us with wide necks may need additional length to allow the necklace to rest at the desired spot.
FORMAL VERSUS CASUAL
Styling matters. What works for a casual event doesn’t always look great for a formal occasion. Most of the time, you will want to wear silver or gold to formal occasions. Stainless steel doesn’t always work with formal attire, especially when many of those styles are casual comparatively.
On the other hand, you can wear just about any metal as a casual look. Many people prefer stainless steel for everyday wear, especially if they work a job with a physical component. You will want to choose a finish that matches your occasion and the style you are wearing for it.
A PENDANT WILL CHANGE THE TYPE OF CHAIN NECKLACE YOU WEAR
What works as a stand-alone statement chain doesn't necessarily look great as a chain holding a pendant. Apart from the issues, you might have with the length – you probably don't want your pendant hanging near your belly button – you should also look at the width.
Not every chain width is made to wear with a pendant. One important facet for choosing a chain for a pendant is the bail size. The bail is the part of the pendant that goes around the chain.
If you choose a chain that is too wide, the bail won’t fit. However, if you choose a very thin chain, it may not fit the aesthetic of the pendant, either.
Many pendants come with chains. Many of our pendants, like our Silver Select Monogram Necklace, are paired with a chain that fits perfectly with the pendant’s bail.
WEARING A STAND ALONE CHAIN VERSUS A LAYERED LOOK
When you’re choosing a chain necklace, you want to think about how you’re wearing it. If you want to layer your necklace, you will want to consider where you want each layer to rest on your body. If you are wearing a necklace as a statement piece on its own, then you’ll consider a different length than if you are purchasing multiple pieces to wear other. For layering necklaces, you likely want about two inches between the lengths of each layer.
On the other hand, you can wear just about any metal as a casual look. Many people prefer stainless steel for everyday wear, especially if they work a job with a physical component. You will want to choose a finish that matches your occasion and the style you are wearing for it.
HOW DO I MEASURE a chain NECKLACE?
The best way to choose a chain necklace length is simply to base it on a necklace you already own. What’s your favorite necklace? You will want to grab it and measure it. The length of your favorite necklace likely gives you the best indication of a chain length that’s both flattering and one that you will reach for in the future.
To measure it accurately, you can do one of two things. First, you can lay it flat and measure the entire length with a flexible measuring tape. If it is adjustable, then you can select the link you most frequently wear it at. Take that length then double it to get the full length of the chain you want.
If you don’t have a necklace you absolutely love, then take your soft measuring tape and measure the width of your neck. Then, you will want to add two inches at a time until you find a length that you like. It helps to measure with a shirt or top you’d like to wear it with.
CHAIN NECKLACE frequently asked questions
What is the most popular style of chain necklaces?
The most popular style of chain necklaces for women is the rope chain. Because they look like two pieces of metal woven together, they offer a feminine appearance that many women favor. Thicker rope chains are worn without embellishments while thinner ones are often used to hold a pendant or locket.
For men, the Cuban chain necklace is the most common style. Cuban chain necklaces gained popularity in the late 70s and early 80s among the Cuban community living in Miami. It has remained popular across the United States and beyond since then. The Cuban chain is versatile; necklaces come in many lengths and widths to allow for individual style for the wearer.
What is a good gender-neutral style of chain necklace?
The Figaro chain necklace is a great choice for someone who would like to try a gender-neutral jewelry option. The chain pattern typically involves two or three short circular links, followed by a larger oval loop link. This pattern gained popularity in 18th century Italy. It’s named after a popular character from classic Italian operas: The Marriage of Figaro and the Barber of Seville.
What style of chain is best to wear every day?
The best chain for everyday wear depends on you how you want to wear it. We’d likely recommend a basic style chain like a cable, Figaro, or box chain for everyday wear, especially if you are planning to attach a pendant to the necklace. Cuban (or curb) chains are a good choice for a masculine option, especially if you would like to wear them alone.
What material is best for a chain necklace?
What material do you like best? For the best durability, we would recommend stainless steel. Stainless steel chain necklaces are going to be the strongest. However, they can be plated with silver or gold to give them a more elegant appearance.
Many people prefer sterling silver or gold as materials for necklaces. There are both popular – albeit more expensive options – but they do give the chain’s appearance a more delicate look. They are also softer metals and may break more easily if they are especially thin.
What types of chain necklaces are hypoallergenic?
Skin allergies and sensitivities are common for many people. It can make choosing jewelry difficult when you must factor that into your selection. Most skin allergies are caused by nickel. Unfortunately, this is a common metal used in creating alloys and metals used in jewelry. Most medical-grade stainless steel is hypoallergenic, as are 14k gold and above.
How do I know which length of chain necklace is best for me?
The best way to figure out what necklace length is good for you, you should consider a few things. Always think about how you're wearing the chain, the occasion, and how it will mesh with your personal style and look. You may also want to consider the width of your neck, as that will play a huge part in where a chain rests on your body.
For more information about the chain lengths available at Messages in Metal, you can see the available chain options and lengths on our website.
What considerations should I think about when choosing a chain necklace?
Before you select a chain necklace, you may want to think about a few (if not all) of these factors:
- Your personal style and how the piece will incorporate into that
- The occasion you want to make your purchase for – is this for casual, everyday wear, or something formal?
- How do you plan to wear it – as a stand-alone piece or paired with a pendant or layered with other necklaces
- The material of the necklace (and any potential metal allergies)
- Your budget
Who invented chain links?
The word “chain” appears as early as 225 BP, making it incredibly difficult to find the origin of the maker or mark when it was first used. We know that early chains were used to draw water buckets to wells and that their use in jewelry is much earlier. Archaeologists have discovered chain jewelry as early as 2600 BP in the burial goods found with Queen Puabi of ancient Babylonia. She wore elaborate golden chains as necklaces, belts, and draped across her body often inlaid with lapis and carnelian. During the Renaissance, Leonardo Da Vinci is credited with further developing the practical application of chain and their use.
Unfortunately, we cannot truly know who invented chain links at this time. Perhaps someday (with more archeological finds), we'll discover more about their use and development through history.
What is a good size chain for a woman?
Most women prefer chain necklaces between 14-20 inches long. On the shorter lengths, you’ll find chain necklace chokers while longer lengths are best worn with high necklines and for layering with shorter chains. If you want a necklace for pairing with a pendant, the most popular length for that is 18 inches.
What is the most durable style of chain necklace?
There is no single most durable style of a chain necklace. There are, however, several options that are more durable than others. Curb link style chains are regarded as the strongest type of link. They are, after all, the ones that are usually used for utility or heavy machinery. One of the strongest chain links is Cuban chain links, largely because they are thicker than many other types. The flat, interlocking oval links add stability and durability to them.
Any chain with thicker links is going to be more durable than its more delicate counterparts. Thin, delicate chains look lovely but do require more care. Additionally, you'll find that certain materials are more durable than others. Stainless steel chain necklaces will be more durable than silver or gold. However, gold-plated stainless steel will be more durable than solid – or hollow – gold links. The price tag does not always indicate durability when it comes to jewelry. It's something to keep in mind when making that selection.
CHAIN NECKLACES to create your sense of style
Chain necklaces are a timeless, stylish jewelry option that has mass appeal. They can be styled for almost any occasion, are great for both men and women, and a flattering for everyone. They’ve been
Choosing the perfect type – and length – of chain necklace is a highly variable process. There’s no “perfect” chain that’s going to be the best for everyone. We hope that the information and tips offered here help guide you in the process and put you on the right track. While our guide may over some helpful tips, ultimately, you should choose the style and length that appeals to you the most.
October 4, by Conor Daniels