Coco, the original OG
I think it’s a lie that Coco Chanel ever said, “Before you leave, take one thing off.” I think she wore heaps and gobs of pearl strands and chains like a Bollywood Marahani because she couldn’t make a decision. And it seems daunting. I know people who won’t wear necklaces because they can’t commit. But a necklace does something really magical: it calls attention to you. Your face, your heart, your body, and it says more than you can say with just clothes. Necklaces enhance, magnify, distract and pinpoint.
So many choices
Look up “necklace length” and you’ll see a bajillion style guides to what-to-wear-with-what. And whenever the Prince of Whatsit’s girlfriend wears something, everybody wants one too. You’d think necklace style and length are all about fashion trends, but it goes much deeper than that. Necklace length and style are a mood, a snapshot of your personality, if you will. And, being snapshots, necklace style and length can and should change, maybe not with the wind, but at least with your priority, purpose, outfit, and certainly with your mood.
Strand length for every body
So, lighten up, take everything off, and start fresh. First let’s walk through lengths of necklaces. You can pull up a size chart of standard lengths like the one below, but guess what? They will all be slightly different, because necks differ! I prefer having a ruler you can carry around in your head. You have a body, so let’s use it. I’ve put in metric measurements for everyone else in the world who uses them. Necklaces come in every length, but these are the standard ones most makers use, and they give us a baseline. Standard lengths start with 12 inches and increase by 2 inches as they get longer.
Measure thy neck
Start with the choker. Measure the base of your neck (see below.) If your neck is 12 to 14 inches, you have your first length. If it is smaller or larger, simply add or subtract the difference from each successive length, which increase by two’s. For example, if your choker length is 12, then your collar length (the next one in line) will be 14. If your choker is 15, your collar length will be 17, and so on. BTW, I made up these category names, but they are based on your body.
Bulk affects length
A word of advice. When buying a necklace, you can expect it to behave at the various lengths as I’ve laid them out below in my guide. However! The bulk of the necklace will change the way it hangs. A bulky choker or collar length made of gigantic beads will actually wear shorter than one made with dainty little sapphire chips. A chain with something on it will hang down further than a knotted or fully beaded strand. And even a long chain will hang longer on a person with a very thin neck than it will on a bulked up MMA fighter chick.
Choker Length: 12 to 14 inches (30.5 to 35.5 cm) Put your hands around the base of your neck (thumbs in the front together) as if you’re going to choke yourself (but please, do not actually squeeze.) That is your choker length, so run a tape measure around that spot. Some people hate anything that close to their breathing tubes, but I’ve seen people of all body types pull this off.
Results: This is a dynamite if moody look. Depending on the size and shape of the materials, it will sit either tight against your neck like a naughty little velvet ribbon, or nest at the base of your neck like something a sassy tour guide might sport in Milan. With spaghetti straps or off-the-shoulder it can go trashy very quickly, but who’s to say that’s a bad thing? Yet chokers can also look clean and mean peeking out of a collar, riding high above some cowl front, backless number, or perched under your chin with a long, sleeveless gown like a 1920’s flapper.
Collar Length: 16 inches (40 cm) Put your finger into the hollow below your throat where your two collar bones come together; there is a little hollow of bone (the jugular notch, but who cares?) This necklace length will hit you right there, and will be akin to a princess or crew neckline.
Results: Obviously, a collar-length necklace worn with the exact same length neckline on a shirt or blouse will cause problems, with the necklace and collar always fighting for supremacy. For this neckline, we either want a very high neck like a close turtleneck, high crew or a boatneck or a lower one like a scoop or even an open collar. This look can be unbelievably prissy (which can be fun in itself) or chic and classic as all hell. Think, Tippi Hedron, in James Bond films. She was both.
Breastbone Length: 18 inches (46 cm) Place your index fingertip on the collar notch as above and then press your thumb knuckle into your chest as if saying you are #1. On your index finger, where your second knuckle hits, you will feel a knobbly protrusion on your chest which we’ll call the breastbone. The breastbone is a true mid-length necklace, perhaps for those who can’t decide, but it can be so much more.
Results: This can be a very strong-looking length, but it can also feel very vulnerable right next to your heart. It’s a length that either says, “I’m not fooling around, get out of my way,” or else, “Be gentle, I’m sensitive.” How you style it makes all the difference. Button collars and v-necks are problematic for this length, you will always be flapping them aside, or adjusting something. This length is best with high collars, boat necks, or a princess or crew. Jackets will frame this even better for that Jackie Onassis sort of pop.
Bandeau Length: 20 inches (50 cm) Place your finger on your breastbone as above and find the point at which your second knuckle hits you below it. This should be the spot where, if you wrapped a towel around you just out of the shower, the top of the towel would hit. It’s not in the cleavage, but it hovers above the cleavage.
Results: As you can imagine, the bandeau draws the eye to a lady’s assets. It also becomes a very workaday length that plays well with almost any neckline.If you’re looking for a Goldilocks neckline (not to high, not too low) this is it. The bandeau can drape around and outside of a princess neckline or a buttoned collar, which is a particularly Wall Street sort of look without the sleaze of a mini-series. It can be very conservative, nerves of steel, I’m all business. Or it can be a little come hither kind of thing, with a low V-neck, a very open collar (3 or more buttons undone) or draped over a cowl or higher neck. This length says, I’m out on the town, let’s have dinner and then maybe dessert?
Cleavage Length: 22 to 24 inches (56 to 61 cm) Put your finger in between your, um, girls. Or where they would be. Or where, if you wore an underwire bra, the wires would come together just there. Also known as “matinee” length, but I’m not sure what sort of matinees one is meant to attend. The cleavage length is, outside of the choker, the most daring of necklaces. It takes a VERY low neckline and guts to wear this.
Results: Here’s the problem with any other than a plunging neckline with the cleavage length. If you have any bumps at all on your chest, your shirt, blouse, tank top, chemise, bustier, will be pulled tight across your chest, and the necklace will never ever sit right. It is meant to nestle right in the center. If you are flat enough, it will look stunning and you can thumb your nose as you wear any and everything with this length like a young Russian Princess with a killer strand of pearls knotted right at the cleavage, and it will always hang right. If you are not of that ilk, you will need to drop that neckline like it’s hot, but it can work very well with a fitted bra top if you’re not up to the full Monty.
No-Fly Zone: 26 – 29 inches (66 to 76 cm) Again, unless you are quite flat, anything in these lengths will be lost in the undercling of your decolletage, with the necklace swinging around in space and finding no purchase. And be mindful of bulky pendants in these longer lengths unless you want to look like you’ve won a medal. Even lighter strands can be hazardous at this length. You bend over, the thing swings out, gets caught on something like a chair leg or doorknob and wowza! Your neck gets jerked downward and beads fly everywhere!
Diaphragm Length: 30 – 34 inches (76 to 86 cm) Tighten your abdomen as if coughing and place your finger at the top center, in the center of where the bottom of your ribcage sits. This is a dramatic length, sometimes called “opera” length, but can be very cool with the right outfit.
Results: This length will either say, “I am an old Victorian lady in mourning” or “I am such a badass I can wear a really long necklace.” The diaphragm is the mack daddy of necklaces. It’s go big or go home. The long necklace can be fringy, sexy, pearly, drapy, frivolous or serious. It can absolutely crank up a little back dress like something out of the British New Wave. It used to say something about how many gems and precious metals a woman could afford. But this length can also be a staid, classic hit that can outline a waist, enhance a bodice, or finish off a very polished look like Beyonce in shirred silk tux.
Belly Button Length or Super Long: 36 inches or more (92 cm) Sometimes called “rope” length, this length hits you at or right above the waist. It can be dangerous and dark or footloose and fancy free..
Results: For a super long necklace we must think boho, gypsy, or perhaps Golden Age debutante. The belly button is meant primarily for occasions where 1) you are in a smooth fronted dress 2) you have no jacket or coat with buttons to contend with 3) the most active you plan on is some light waltzing and holding a champagne glass and 4) you won’t be sitting down much until you get into your limo. So, the belly button (or beyond!) makes a spectacular statement, and if you can pull it off, you can do anything from Kwakuitl Shaman to Greta Garbo as an Italian opera star.