The concept of a wallet chain came from 1950s biker culture when leather and metal combined to create the fearsome image of bike gangs. Like Marlon Brando in The Wild One (1954), these bikers hit the road in cuffed jeans, engineer’s boots, white tee shirts, leather jackets, and wallet chains so intimidating that they could make grown men cry.
The wallet chain not only deterred theft, but it discouraged any disparaging remarks made about, or to the wearer of, the extreme style.
The wallet was attached to a chain, which had a strap of leather that attached to either belt loops or a belt, for the ultimate security. A pickpocket couldn’t get too far away without pulling your chain.
The youth culture of the 50’s boppers copied the biker style and laced heavy chains through their belt loops as a threateningly constant reminder that they carried a weapon.
The rockabilly subculture sustained the fashion, and when it reappeared to the masses in the 80s and 90s, the wallet chain was an essential accessory for any male (or female for that matter) that veered off the straight and narrow path. Punk rockers, skaters, surfers, grungers, hip-hoppers, and any of the general slackers that became known as generation X, tooled around with a chain swinging from their pants.
Even ravers wore plastic chains painted with bold primary colours hanging down from their baggy pants.
Some chains were small gauge while others were heavy three-inch links that could tow a ’53 Cadillac.
Some were short, barely noticeable and just long enough to reach to the back pocket while others nearly dragged on the floor in a giant swag.
The traditional plain black leather wallet emblazoned with the American eagle gave way to an entire range of outrageous designs: Tiger stripes, licking flames, and neon glitter battled it out for the title of coolest wallet.
When coupled with bowling shirts, body piercings, tattoos, and a tough guy look, wallet chains were a must for any man who wanted to fan his masculine plumage.