I binged the BBC adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People, starring Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal, in one sitting. I was (and still am) a huge fan of the book, so I had certain expectations. The clothes, as I’ve already shared, more than lived up to the images I’d created in my head — as did the scenery, the music, and the overarching love story. What I didn’t expect was for something as minute as a silver chain necklace, clasped effortlessly around the neck of Mescal’s character, Connell Waldron, to have such an intense impact on my viewing experience.
The chain — at once subtle and sexy — has caused me to feel like a horny teenager. And based on what I’ve seen online, I’m not alone.
In the book, Rooney described it as “an unadorned silver neck chain,” one that Marianne (played by Edgar-Jones) recognizes from their days in school together. Marianne’s best friend Peggy calls the chain “Argos chic,” a reference to a UK chain store similar to Walmart, making Marianne cringe, “though she couldn’t tell which friend she was cringing for.” It’s a reference to his economic background, a symbol of his middle-class upbringing, compared to Marianne’s upperclass lifestyle. It’s Connell through and through, which is probably why a lot of people are going so wild over it.
Connell’s chain is so revered, in fact, that it’s recently acquired its own Instagram account. The account goes by the name of @connellschain — groundbreaking, I know. And in the few days since it was first created, it’s already amassed over 27k followers. It’s basically a thirst account, one that’s impossible not to love.
I brought up the chain to a number of people after my day spent binge-watching Normal People. One friend, who hadn’t yet read the books and was only a few episodes in, referred to it as “the sexiest item he’s ever seen,” and announced that he needed one of his own. We went on to spend the remainder of our Zoom call talking about it, much to the dismay of the other parties involved.
When I asked the show’s costume designer, Lorna Marie Mugan, about the significance of the chain, she says it’s a detail that’s been coming up a lot in interviews. “I've answered so many questions about that chain.”
“The neck chain is a key to Connell's look,” Mugan says. “Gareth wouldn't wear a silver chain,” she clarifies, speaking of another of Marianne’s boyfriends, who Connell jokingly calls a campus celebrity.
“It is the constant with him,” Mugan continues. “He carries it right through the story. And Marianne says she recognizes it because he had it in school, so it was crucial that he bring it right the way through. He has nothing else really that stands out.” But it wasn’t just Mugan who felt that way. “It was so important to Paul that the chain was there all the time.”
The book debuted on The New York Times best seller list at number 3, and Rooney was named the “Salinger of the Snapchat generation.” Part of the mastery of her writing is the raw emotion between the two main characters, but also the details through which the characters are rendered — like that chain.
During the hour-long Zoom conversation with my friends about the chain, another sexually-charged jewelry item came up: Elio Perlman’s gold pendant from André Aciman’s cult-classic love story Call Me By Your Name. In the film adaptation, Perlman, played by none other than Timothée Chalamet, is seen popping his head out of a glistening body of water, whipping his floppy curls dry, his gold Star of David necklace hanging out of his mouth. The necklace, which Elio’s love interest Oliver wears first, followed by Elio, is meant to act as a symbol of their relationship. “My Star of David, his Star of David, our two necks like one, two cut Jewish men joined together from time immemorial,” Aciman writes.
That photo of Chalamet with the necklace in his mouth had a similar effect on viewers as the images found on @connellschain. For the remainder of the film, it plays a significant role, becoming the focal point of most of his ensembles, including the oversized sweater and swim trunks he’s seen wearing after swimming with Oliver during their first morning together and over top the pink and navy striped T-shirt he wears to surprise Oliver in the piazza later that day. If you don’t remember it, just check @callmebymonet, the Instagram account dedicated to combining stills from the film with classic Monet paintings via Photoshop. It’s featured in nearly every post.
I think the reason why people are so drawn to these characters, and subsequently, their choice of jewelry, is because of their openness and vulnerability. Both are struggling to come to terms with their situations, yet are still willing to risk everything for the person they love most. It’s a refreshing take on masculinity that pop culture rarely gives us. Both Normal People and Call Me By Your Name offer male protagonists that are, above all else, sensitive. And what’s sexier than that?