We LOVE our necklaces! Long, short, slim, thick… from the lightest, subtlest hint of adornment, to stonkin’ big, Stone-Age warrior princess necklaces, or supercolorist pieces that would be right at home in a Frida Kahlo self-portrait, the members of the Zita team rarely leave home without one, or several; for this reason, we’ve thought it was time to put together a guide of necklace lengths for reference. Enjoy!
Collar length – 12-13 inches / 30 to 33 centimeters: the smallest length of all, for the most swanlike necks… if your neck is slimmer and longer than you would like (yes, there are women who complain about this… is there no end to the supposed defects women can find in themselves?), this measure is perfect to visually ‘shorten’ its length. If that isn’t your case, but you still love wearing them, they go beautifully with boatneck or ample square necklines.
Elisabeth Christine von Braunschweig-Bevern – portrait by Antoine Pesne ca. 1739, via Wikimedia Commons.
Fun factoid: this is usually the length of neck ribbon chokers, superfeminine and flattering, but with a rather interesting history that not many know: although they’ve been in fashion at various eras, they were rather notorious in France around the decade of 1860, being commonly worn by prostitutes; specifically, a style known as ‘je ne baise plus’ (translatable as: ‘will not f— any more’, signaling that its wearer would not accept any more customers that day), consisting of a simple, slim ribbon tied in a bow; this style was made famous by Manet in his painting ‘Olympia’, the art scandal of its day.
Choker length – 14 to 16 in / 35 to 40 cm: this pretty, versatile style is a classic! From tiny chains to largish beads, they’re just as feminine and flattering as a collar length with a bit of room to spare. This length falls usually a little below the base of the neck, and is a nice choice to wear with shirt collars for a polished office look, with sweetheart or strapless necklines (particularly for evening or party gowns), scooped or cowl necklines.
Portrait of a Florentine Lady, by Alessandro Allori, 16th c., via Wikimedia Commons. Now *that* is a portrait collar.
This length and the princess below are also typical of the 50’s, if you wish to add a nostalgic or pin-up girl touch to your look.
Princess length – 17 to 19 in / 45 to 48 cm: another classic, worn more or less in the same ways as a choker, only this is looser, falling approximately at collarbone height; this length will look very nice with a turtleneck and a pretty pendant, or with a lower neckline like sweetheart, strapless or cowl. In their masculine version, this tends to be the common length for puka or wood necklaces for him.
Matinée, from 20 to 24 in / 50 to 60 cm: an estrategic length to wear with V-necks (you’re a better judge of how high or how low… just how much do you want him to look into your eyes? :P)
Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour and Bing Crosby in Road to Bali, 1952, via Wikimedia Commons. But really, how fabulous was La Lamour?
And, for everything else, this length will also look good with a turtleneck, maybe with a large pendant for that seventies’ look, a crewneck, or over a square neckline á la Jackie Kennedy.
Opera length – 28 to 35 in / 70 to 90 cm: this was the correct length to wear with formal attire for the evening, according to the strictures of days gone by. A type of necklace in this length (usually) called a sautoir, accented with a large piece about diaphragm height, was typical of the more glamorous Art Deco looks of the twenties. This effect can be replicated by tying the strand into a knot, for a less formal look.
If you’re small-breasted, try layering several necklaces more or less of this length with a scandalously deep neckline – it looks fabulous, and believe it or not, quite classy, in a seventies’ glam sort of way!
Ropes and lariats – 45 inches and over / 110 cm +: these are looong and luxurious, to wear in a single strand or loop it in several, to suit your mood… they’re almost synonymous with Jazz Age fashion and with flappers, the archetypal free female spirit that had envious tongues always wagging; an urban myth suggests that during Prohibition in the US, only women wearing this sort of necklace were allowed entrance to speakeasies.
Grace Elvina, Marchioness Curzon of Kedleston – portrait by John Singer Sargent, 1925, via Wikimedia Commons. It’s good to be marchioness…
What is certain is that mademoiselle Chanel was one of the main trendsetters behind this piece, setting the example by wearing and mixing both authentic and synthetic pearl strands; the bead rope was a perfect accessory against the backdrop of looser dresses with straight, clean lines of the era, and helped create a look of a thinner, boyish figure as dictated by the newer beauty standards, after decades of corseted curves… wear it today with boho blouses and flowy summer dresses, or with its natural ally, the little black dress!
There’s also a version of this length called ‘lariat’, that was quite fashionable among the disco divas of the seventies, consisting in a necklace that closes lasso-style with one end falling in a Y form down the chest; it also looks fantastic falling down the back with a low-backed dress. If you avoid wearing necklaces because you feel too full-figured, do try a rope or a lariat, which help create the illusion of an elongated look. And besides, they’re wonderfully versatile and look just fabulous with a variety of necklines, from high turtlenecks in winter to summery strapless!