Wallet chains have served as a major staple of biker fashion since the '50s. Since then, they've made their way into various other American subcultures.
In fact, they even hopped the pond and found their way into Japanese fashion!
Read on to find out more about these major biker fashion icons outside of biker culture.
A Brief History of the Wallet
First, let's talk briefly about the wallet (after all wallet chains would not exist without wallets).
In 1690, paper currency was introduced in Massachusetts. Immediately following the new currency came the invention of wallets.
They were typically made of cow or horse leather. These new wallets also included a pouch for storing your calling card (an old term for an identification card).
Prior to wallets, women used small bags with drawstrings to store their currency and calling cards.
Wallets remained much the same until the '50s, when the first credit card was introduced. After its invention, wallets included multiple card placeholders.
The only true deviation in wallet design since then is the creation of Velcro wallets, which came in the '70s.
Unfortunately, wallets have become a main target of pickpockets. Pickpockets can skillfully work wallets out of purses and pants pockets without the wearer noticing.
The Introduction of Wallet Chains
Wallet chains were born and bred in biker culture. They came into prominence in the '50s as a practical means to make sure bikers didn't lose their wallets while riding.
The Punk Scene in the '70s
Punk fashion of the '70s borrowed heavily from biker fashion. Articles of clothing that have transcended subculture boundaries include leather jackets, boots, and of course, chains for your wallet.
These chains had two different appeals to the punk scene. First, the relatively short length of the chain made it difficult for pickpockets to take the wearer's money. Secondly, they simply look cool.
The '70s punk scene marked the first time that these chains were used as a fashion accessory. No longer were they practical tools akin to eyeglass cords.
Wallet Chains in Other Music Subcultures
Once wallet chains became a music subculture fashion accessory, they spread across similar music subcultures.
Take, for example, the metal and rock scene of the '80s. Bands such as Poison and Aerosmith donned long hair, tight jeans, and studded leather jackets. As part of their "tough" appearance, they sometimes also attached wallet chains to their jeans.
Partiers in the industrial dance music scene also adopted the chains. These people, called "goths" and "rivet heads," similarly wore tight, black clothing to create their own take on "tough."
The Grunge Scene in the '90s
The chains of the hour made a big comeback in the '90s during the grunge music movement.
A rawer, heavier type of rock, grunge served as a counterpoint to the glam of the '80s music scenes. Famous grunge bands include Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam.
Similarly, grunge fashion served as a counterpoint to the fashion of those earlier music scenes. Gone was the glitz of the long hair and form-fitting jeans and jackets. Gone too was the notion that to look hot, you had to look tough.
Instead, grunge was all about not looking hot. In a way, it also disregarded looking tough in favor of simply looking genuine.
If you compare grunge fashion to '80s music scene fashion, you'll first notice that grunge is much larger--literally. Big, bulky jackets coupled with long t-shirts and baggy flannel shirts were in.
Other major staples of grunge fashion include ripped jeans, dyed hair, combat boots, and old Converse shoes.
In essence, grunge fashion was about not caring -- and going out of your way to look that way.
The Appearance of Wallet Chains in Grunge Fashion
Since grunge was so counterculture, it makes sense that the chains made famous by bikers in the '50s made their way into grunge fashion.
These chains became a major staple of the grunge scene, worn even by Nirvana frontman and undisputed grunge king Kurt Cobain.
In Fashion Today
It's been over twenty years since grunge ruled the music scene. Like many past fashion trends, the huge jackets, flannel shirts, and chains that attached pant leg to wallet are often mocked.
At the moment, though, fashion--especially streetwear--seems to be going through a rock phase. Band t-shirts, ripped pants, and black leather jackets are currently all the rage. As such, the chains of the grunge era are starting to make a comeback.
Rap and Hip-Hop
As detailed above, music subculture fashion tends to travel across other music subcultures. One subculture that has recently taken on these chains is the rap and hip-hop subculture. A major staple of this subculture's recent fashion scene is necklaces with pendants on them.
Sometimes referred to as "bling," these necklaces consist of long gold or platinum chains. On the end are matching pendants encrusted with diamonds ("ice") or other gemstones.
Chains are already such a big icon in rap and hip-hop fashion. So, it makes sense that the subculture would adopt chains worn on jeans.
On the Runway
In the fall of 2016, the fashion line Vetements featured chains on the pants and jeans of their runway line-up.
Additionally, check out big fashion names such as Miyako Bellizzi, Martine Ali, and Alexia Elkaim. Their recent lines have all featured the chains made popular by biker culture in the '50s.
On Social Media
These chains have also made their way onto social media.
Instagram, a popular social media platform for sharing photos, is a useful tool for upcoming models and other fashion hopefuls. Recently, these chains have enjoyed a surge in popularity on Instagram.
Western fashion has always been enjoyed a major influence on Japanese fashion.
As such, these chains have held steady in popularity since they were first introduced as fashion accessories in the '70s.
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