Before I begin, I’m going to provide a bit of context to this piece by inserting the video below.
Now, in an attempt to mitigate the burning rage to crucify me in the comments section, allow me to stress that I’m well aware that Linkin Park and its early-mid 2000s nu metal contemporaries were not the first to champion the wallet chain (though they arguably wore it best). In fact, the accessory first came to prominence with biker subcultures during the ’50s, created as a pragmatic tool for motorcyclists to keep their wallets intact while they tested the limits of their vehicle’s torque.
A few years down the road, wallet chains would soon become popularized by the early pioneers of ’70s punk, who not only incorporated them into their way of dress as a means to prevent pickpocketing along with securing their stash while flailing about in mosh pits, but also promoted them as a fashion accessory.
The tough, fetishistic appeal of the wallets – not to mention that infernal rattling sound they make with every twitch of a leg muscle – was eventually adopted by variety of music subcultures that spawned after punk: goths, rivet heads and a multitude of heavy metal enthusiasts throughout the ’80s were more often than not seen sporting the metal embellishments alongside their vacuum-sealed leather trousers or tattered-up jeans.
But as pant leg sizes grew, so did the prominence of wallet chains. The apathetic sentiments toward fashion that defined ’90s grunge would serve as a direct opposition to the flashy aesthetics of various rock groups that dominated the charts throughout the previous decade (the prime offender being hair metal, one of the more deplorable movements to emerge in rock history).
The majority of grunge acts swapped skintight leather getups and clownish makeup for oversized cuts and an overall deliberately unkempt appearance – a look that would later fall into the hands of the fashion industry, much to their chagrin. Wallet chains, however, were one of the few sartorial attributes that would carry over from hair metal paraphernalia, donned by everyone from Kurt Cobain to Alice in Chains (no pun intended) frontman Lane Staley.
Now that I’ve stressed wallet chains’ affiliation with rock music, let’s shift gears for a moment and highlight their standing in other music scenes. Ravers, who’ve been known to shuffle and t-step in billowing parachute pants and jeans with mammoth leg circumferences, occasionally ornament their getups with various iterations of the accessory, sometimes exchanging the metal for plastic chain links or nylon straps.
In hip-hop, jewelry is easily one of the most distinguishing sartorial characteristics among emcees, and given rappers’ penchant for showering their upper bodies with heaps of metal and ice, it was only a matter of time before they started donning the chains below their waists – everyone from mid-00s stars like Shop Boyz and Lil Wayne to contemporary heavyweights such as Young Thug and Ty Dolla $ign have been seen rocking the accessory.
At the moment, fashion, especially streetwear, seems to be going through a rock and roll phase; band T-shirts, ripped denim and biker jackets have been dominating runways, lookbooks and street style reports as of late. But as the embrace of rock-tinged apparel increasingly cements itself in the current fashion and streetwear vernacular, accessories are noticeably following suit. Buzzy, progressive labels such as Darkdron, MISBHV, Nicola Indelicato, Christian Dada and Homme Boy are all peppering their collections with the metallic accessory and, as noted above, they appear to be a hit among this new wave of modern rappers.
And though wallet chains are currently regaining traction in European and American markets, they’ve actually been a staple accessory in the Japanese menswear landscape for a minute. Brands with a love affair for all things Americana, rockabilly and heritage – NEIGHBORHOOD, visvim, mastermind JAPAN and SOPHNET. – have been cosigning wallet chains since the late ’90s/early 2000s. Not to mention American accessories label Chrome Hearts, founded by motorcyclist Richard Stark, has experienced steadfast success with Japan’s style savvy for decades
The prevalence of Japanese fashion seems to be greater than ever within the Western hemisphere (ironic given the country’s dexterity in lifting countless trends from Western subcultures), but combined with this recent merger of hip-hop and rock styles, the streets are bound to witness the resurrection of the wallet chain in no time.
While the people adorning wallet chains these days are perhaps not wearing them for their (formerly) utilitarian purpose, their function as a fashion accessory has been long established. Sure, we can be irked at “posers” who choose to sport them simply because they fit with today’s style zeitgeist, but at least they’re less likely to amass the same rage as, say, someone rocking a Slipknot T-shirt who doesn’t even know the chorus to “Duality.”
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The views and opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of Highsnobiety as a whole.