The quest for a particular brand of white dad-like sexiness has dictated style for years now. Dad bods are celebrated; models sport New Balances; even MEL sells a dad-style baseball cap. But for true paternal erotica, we only ever needed one object: a single, thin chain.
Growing up, my Bostonian Italian-Armenian father regularly wore a silver chain. So I don’t need to do many psychological backflips to understand why I find something comforting and familiar about guys in necklaces. Before quarantine, my planned gift for my boyfriend was to take him to a jeweler and buy him a chain of his own, similar to the one his Jewish father from Brooklyn continues to wear. That’s been postponed, but the chain trend continues.
With the release of Hulu’s TV adaptation of Sally Rooney’s novel Normal People, the chain received a new visual promotion, with the show’s male romantic subject, Connell, wearing a small silver one, close to his neck. In the eighth episode, there is a scene devoted entirely to it. As Sangeeta Singh-Kurtz points out in The Cut, the chain is perhaps the sexiest part of the show. “It’s his chain, a thin, silver whisper draped about a deliciously thick neck, that is the object of my desire. It’s yet another subtle paradox in a character built on them; Connell, muscular and tough-seeming, is really gentle and tender,” she writes.
Indeed, what works about the chain is the contrast between its delicate quality and the masculinity of its wearer. The chain itself is often a precious object. Regularly costing between $100 to $1,000 or more, the small piece of jewelry might be one of the nicest, most sentimental objects a man owns. In light of this, it’s rare to see the chain associated with a WASP-y type of wealth. In Normal People, Connell is the child of a single mother who works as a cleaner. In The Sopranos and most other mob movies, the men who wear chains represent a nouveau-riche aesthetic considered tacky to outsiders.
But now, this working-class-aspirational look is in. On TikTok, teen boys even try to role play so you can have the experience of having a chain-wearer on top of you. In fact, on YouTube, there are several compilations of such “chain dangle” trends.
By this measure, the chain might just be dead for the women like me who associate it with a familiar kind of masculinity, but other young women still seem to love it. Though plenty find this new interpretation just as cringe-y as I do, many still leave exasperated comments that are dotted with heart-eye emojis. Beyond the fact that many of these boys seem to be in high school, though, what is especially unattractive about the trend is how hard they’re trying — the chain embodies one component of an entire brand of masculinity, while they’re attempting to make the chain a brand unto itself.
Ultimately, though, I’m not sure these TikTokers will put an actual dent in the appeal of the jewelry. If anything, now that Normal People has highlighted it, the chain will only become more coveted. But as it does, again, it’ll further distance itself from why it was cool in the first place. While today’s popular dad aesthetic might have looked toward a golf course for inspiration, the thin chain was suggestive of men who couldn’t afford to be members of the country club — and wouldn’t join if they could.