From chokers to pendants, read on for a complete guide on the evolution of your favorite necklace styles.
Perhaps history’s oldest and most innovative accessory, the necklace has evolved in length, style, material and popularity. Join us on a journey through this popular accessory’s rich history of symbolism, status and beauty.
Often dainty and worn closely to the neck, the choker is perhaps one of the most well-known and documented necklaces throughout history. The history of the choker necklace is as rich and fascinating as their many varieties, styles, and style icons who have worn them throughout the centuries.
Throughout the centuries, anthropologists have uncovered countless images of ancient Mesopotamians and Egyptians donning chokers and other ornamental styles. To the ancient Egyptians, chokers were far more than just a symbol of status and beauty; they were also thought to have healing powers. For example, a string of hippopotamus charms, alluding to the pregnant hippopotamus goddess Tawert, was worn by a pregnant woman to call for protection through childbirth.
In response to the French Revolution, young women in 1790s England wore red ribbon chokers as a way to thumb their noses at the beheadings that were occurring during France's Reign of Terror. As a cheeky nod to this turmoil, British women wore red chokers as clever taunts and derision due to the deep animosity the Brits held for the French.
In addition to political mockery, chokers have also served as a symbol of social status and refinement in the world of fashion jewelry. Queen Alexandra of Denmark, for example, took many trips to India and was influenced by the vibrant choker-style necklaces worn there. Queen Alexandra favored thick-banded versions of the necklaces as she wished to cover a scar on her neck and her preferred designs were quickly nicknamed dog collars. Although her motivation for popularizing this style was practical, she helped thrust beautiful chokers into the collections of both elite and everyday women in 18th century society.
Art Deco styles thrust the choker back into fame in the 1920s, and musical artists like Mick Jagger, David Bowie and Jimi Hendricks helped take the style to new heights in the 1970s. In the 1990s, Punk style helped solidify the choker as a counter-cultural fashion symbol, and styles featuring velvet, studded leather, and metal chains were prominently featured on the punk-rock scene.
How to Style This Necklace:
Whether you’re trying to make a political or social statement, chokers are a simple and fascinating way to demonstrate your individuality. At 12” to 14,” choker necklaces fit close to the neck and do not hang. They should be fitted and sit high on the neck, but not to the point of being uncomfortable.
Perhaps the most famous kind of collar, the livery collar, was an important political tool of late-medieval England. Abounding in government records, chronicles and correspondences, this collar was worn about the neck to denote service to a lord. Made from precious metals, these collars advertised one’s status in society, most importantly the relationship the wearer possessed with the royal family.
The most famous of these collars, the Collar of Esses, was one kind of livery collar worn exclusively by individuals with a relationship to the Lancastrian branch of English royalty: John of Gaunt, Kings Henry IV, Henry V and Henry VI. Although many of these collars have since been destroyed, an original collar of Esses is currently on display at the Museum of London.
How to Style this necklace:
At 15“ to 16,” collar-length necklaces fit around the base of the neck. Providing more room than the choker, the collar is a great alternative for those looking for a statement piece with a bit more room. Collar necklaces often look great while paired with a high-collared shirt, such as a turtle neck or button down. This style is meant to be seen, so make sure to pair it with a color that will make the necklace stand out.
Although necklaces have been crafted and worn since the dawn of human civilization, it was not until the 19th century that princess length necklaces rose to popularity in European. Largely, this is due to the modest high necklines that were expected of refined women throughout the 16th to 18th centuries. When the low necklines of the court gowns worn by Europe’s most fashionable women began to take stage at palaces like Versailles, necklaces began to elongate.
Emulating ancient Greek styles, as was the political, social and intellectual fashion of the 1800s, women wore strands of pearls or gold chains adorned with jewels. In the Romantic period (1800-1840s), princess necklaces were extravagant and featured some of the finest metalwork and jewel pendants. With styles that pushed the previously set boundaries of class restriction and modesty, the princess length necklace has remained the industry standard length since its inception.
How to Style This Necklace:
At 17“ to 19,” the princess necklace is perhaps the most common necklace length. As the most versatile style, the princess length can be worn with both low and high-cut necklines. Everyday princess necklaces pair well with both collared and mid-neck tops and for a more formal look, a strapless neckline easily elements this elegant length.
The matinee necklace style was a natural necklace-length progression to match the lowering necklines of the 20th century. The Art Deco movement of the 1920s popularized longer-length necklaces and chunky, geometric jewelry that combined different gemstone types and thicker metals. 1960s costume fashion jewelry, popularized by Chanel and other luxury firms, featured geometric or organically shaped silver necklaces, and precious gems set in platinum or solid gold necklaces inspired by the 18th century courts of Europe. The longer length of the necklace, however, allowed women to demonstrate their classic necklace style with a more modern sensibility.
Women were not the only ones to embrace the changing styles and social mores of the 1960s. In this decade men championed the popularity of Love bead necklace styles, featuring a single strand of stone or glass beads, and pendant necklaces, most often made of leather cords or metal chain types and metal pendants.
How to Style This Necklace:
At 20“ to 24,” the matinee-length necklace drops below the collarbone and typically falls at the center of the bust and is a good alternative when a princess style is just a bit too short for one’s taste or wardrobe choice. This style pairs well with a daring neckline, as well as high collared variations.
Between 1920-1922 dress waistlines dropped to hip-level, and hemlines for daywear rose to just below the calf, which thus replaced high button boots with stylish heels. As flappers’ hair was trimmed shorter, necklaces got longer. Long strands of pearls began popping up on the 1920’s social scene, specifically at formal occasions, like a night at the opera. Not to be constrained by societal rules, however, women began utilizing these longer necklines in various ways. Sautoirs, long strands of beads that ended in a tassel, and lariat necklace styles were often worn at the back.
How to Style This Necklace:
Length: At 25“ to 27,” the opera necklace falls below the bust and is the length most people imagine when thinking of a strand of pearls for a more formal affair. As the flappers did, you can always double up your necklace for a shorter length, or wrap it multiple times over for a stacked bracelet look.
Want to learn more about what to pair with your necklace? You can never go wrong with a pair of earrings. Visit our blog to read about different earring styles and the history of earrings to discover which type best suits your style.
How to Pick Perfect Necklace Style:
Although one’s personal wardrobe and style can be as unique as their fingerprint, here are some generalized styling tips to help anyone feeling a bit stumped. If you’re wearing a dress or top with an open or plunging neckline, the shorter necklace varieties are often more suitable, especially if the piece incorporates large stones and design flourishes that you wish to show off. Necklines like those seen in turtlenecks favor longer lengths, which would be the perfect opportunity to showcase a beautiful pendant or gemstone to add a personal touch to your ensemble. If you're interested in layering necklaces, be sure to pick pieces that complement each other in length and design. Don't forget to let your necklace style match your unique staple jewelry. Every diamond shape should have it's extraordinary compliment.
Brier, Bob. Daily Life of the Ancient Egyptians. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2008
Delis Hill, Daniel. History of World Costume and Fashion. Prentice Hall, 2011.
"Egyptian Amulets Essay Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History The Metropolitan Museum of Art". The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.