How to master the art of the ‘neck mess’

Gwyneth Paltrow (left) and Jennifer Lopez (right) wearing layers of different necklaces
Gwyneth Paltrow (left) and Jennifer Lopez (right) wearing layers of different necklaces

Every evening, when I get home from work, I have a ritual with my 14-month-old twins. I climb into their playpen and they clamber on top of me to start playing with my ‘neck mess’ - the collection of delicate chains, beads and pendants that live around my neck.

I can’t claim that it’s a particularly considered assortment - it’s a bit of a tangle - but I love the way it has evolved over the past couple of years to include a gold Alighieri coin-shaped pendant, a beachy string of coral-red beads (Missoma), a fine gold Catbird chain with a tiny diamond (a treat to myself after I got a promotion while living in New York), and, the newest addition, a Mejuri chain strung with an M and an R (the babies’ initials). Sometimes I will add or remove a piece, but my neck now feels naked without it, so I wear it day-in and day-out.

I’m not the only one. Take a closer look at the necks of some of the world’s best-dressed women and you’ll start seeing layered necklace stacks everywhere. Gwyneth Paltrow, Beyonce, Michelle Obama and Gigi Hadid, as well as Jennifers Lopez and Aniston, are all fans of the neck mess, many of them sporting at least one of New York-based fine jewellery brand Foundrae’s handmade gold chains, to which an assortment of vintage-inspired charms can be attached.

Gwyneth Paltrow in her neck mess, featuring a chain by Foundrae - Instagram
Gwyneth Paltrow in her neck mess, featuring a chain by Foundrae - Instagram

A stack of gold chains (and they are usually gold these days, though silver or a mix of metals looks equally good) seem nonchalantly thrown together - and sometimes they are - but they are just as likely to be carefully coordinated, with each piece in a different texture and length. For many, necklace layering has become something of an art form, and it’s proving an addictive hobby. It’s a means of self-expression, too. This ‘furniture’ jewellery needs to have some kind of sentimental value if it’s going to take up permanent residence around our necks.

‘Necklace stacks have become something that is almost a symbol of who you are, and how you want to be seen,’ says Missoma founder Marisa Hordern. ‘It doesn't matter whether you're mixing vintage, or something from your mum, your grandmother, whoever it is, that might have given it to you. A lot of these pieces, you just pick up along the way. So you remember where you were, or why it was given to you and who gave it to you. And that's what makes it so personal.’

There is so much demand for layering-friendly jewellery, it has even filtered into Hodern’s business model. Missoma has an online tool that allows shoppers to curate perfectly layered stacks - an addictive pursuit that quickly ramps up the total in your shopping basket. If you lack confidence in your layering skills, you can also buy them in pre-styled bundles.

Mejuri’s new boutique on London’s Marylebone High Street offers the real-life equivalent: dummy decolletages on which you can stack chain upon chain without having to deal with fiddly clasps or tangles with the hair at the nape of your neck. No surprise, then, that many people get carried away when they step into the store. ‘People don't walk out with one piece,’ says the brand’s founder, Noura Sakkijha. ‘We have people spending 45 minutes to an hour experimenting with different combinations of chains and pendants.’

It can take a little confidence to really go for it though. At Mejuri, many customers initially want to copy the looks worn by the sales staff. ‘We get a lot of questions about it,’ says Sakkijha. ‘Styling necklaces is actually a lot more complex than people think.’

Getting started is straightforward though: ‘If you're building a stack I would start with a plain chain as the basic piece - I have the boyfriend chain - and then I start to add to it,’ she advises. ‘There should be a balance between lengths, and a balance between how much shine you want, so I would add a little bit of stone. I'm wearing three necklaces, two with diamonds and one plain with a Winged Coin pendant - it's a victory sign. Anything that has victory on it, I love. It's about a sense of achievement.’

Supermodel Adwoa Aboah wearing a cluster of gold chains with her tailored suit - Getty Images
Supermodel Adwoa Aboah wearing a cluster of gold chains with her tailored suit - Getty Images

One thing you shouldn’t worry about is trying to make a big fashion statement - that’s not what necklace layering is about, although the fact that it looks rather chic is a bonus. ‘These are pieces that you wear every day,’ Sakkijha says. ‘I’ve actually been wearing these for months. It's not about showing off, it's about your story.’

Hordern says that even she used to play it safer in the past, but her latest collaborator, the fashion designer Harris Reed, has inspired her to experiment more. ‘I have been growing more confident and bold, having been inspired by Harris and his layering,’ she says. ‘Things that I thought might have been too much, I'm now doing and I'm loving it. [The neck mess] is all about feeling that freedom to not be bound by rules and conventions.’

Hordern’s (all-Missoma) stack currently includes a flat snake chain, an Axiom chain, a twisted link chain, the Harris Reed ‘In Good Hands’ pearl necklace and a black onyx beaded necklace. ‘I love mixing the pearls with the gold with the beads,’ she says.

It seems like there are as many brands selling easy-to-layer jewellery as there are possible layering combinations, so it can be hard to know where to begin. There’s something to suit every taste and budget though. At the pricier end of the scale are A-list favourites Foundrae and Loquet London (its gold and crystal lockets can be filled with your choice of charms). At the more accessible end is Pi London or Susan Caplan for vintage and vintage-inspired finds, PD Paola for its array of initial charms and Otiumberg for tasteful classics in recycled gold. Go to Alighieri for its much-copied-never-bettered rustic gold coin pendants and Devon-based Wanderlust Life for affordable birthstone charm necklaces.

Fry Powers, which has been worn by Jodie Comer and Sarah Jessica Parker in the new Sex and the City spin-off, offers neon enamel-coated jewellery and baroque pearls, while Roxanne First has gold smiley faces and ombre chains of precious stone beads.

There is just one key to a successful and truly individual stack, and that is to include pieces you love.

‘Jewellery is an extension of your personality,’ says Hordern. ‘It's as much a way to express yourself as your nail varnish, your lipstick, your shoes, your handbag, but with jewellery you can really layer it and have fun with it.’

Stack ‘em up

Stacking necklaces
Stacking necklaces

Alighieri Paola and Francesca gold-plated necklace, £280 (Net-a-Porter); 1990s vintage gold-plated Spiga chain necklace, £23 (Susan Caplan); Filia and Camail chain necklace set, £340 (; Diamond letter pendant, £190 (Mejuri); Large signature chain gold-plated necklace, £340 (PD Paola); Vermeil name pendant, £110 (Otiumberg);Roxanne First Disco mother of pearl and rainbow agate beaded necklace, £195 (Liberty)