Keys are one of the few universal items that pretty much everyone has to deal with at some point. We may have electronic keycards in the office, but to drive a car, get into the house, access the family safe deposit box, or unlock a gym locker you still need a plain old key. Holding on to those keys is another universal headache that regardless of culture or politics, demands the ubiquitous key ring or keychain.
This topic actually came up as reader comment in response to one of my first Men’s Flair articles on accessories. I had not included key chains and the reader asked if they would be affected by fashion cycles just like other accessories. Good question. Though belated, here are my thoughts on key chains.
In my opinion, key chains are not particularly influenced by fashion cycles; however, I would say that they are affected by broader social and design trends. For example, the key cases which were popular for decades appear to have all but vanished from the market. I can’t recall the last time I laid eyes on one. The key chain itself however – the functional object – remains.
Generally, I would say that men tend to favor key chains that are simple but also reflect a little personality. In the States, classics like the braided leather loop and preppy “tie” versions are always pretty popular. The latter has a fob shaped like a loop of summer belting; the kind with signal flags that spell out “Martha’s Vineyard,” or whatnot. Like any other personal object, a key chain says something about the keys owner. In this case, it implies a sunny, sandy and privileged lifestyle. And why not? Whenever I see a naked key ring, no fob or other unique moniker that says, “start here,” I feel a bit sad. Keys themselves are anonymous, key rings should not be.
I think the key – pun intended – is to have something neither ostentatious nor pedestrian. For the captains of industry, Tiffany & Co. is the master of simple elegance. Ralph Lauren has some wonderful key chains that speak to the easy landed gentry’s lifestyle: lots of leather and brass. Key chains can be found that reflect personal interests too: mountain climbing carabineers, miniature ship lanterns, and even tiny golf clubs.
For the aspirational among us, it is easy to get a hold of BMW, Mercedes, or Ferrari logoed versions. Even brands supposedly above such crass commercialism like Rolls Royce let you buy a piece of the myth. Of course, if you’re using it to impress a certain someone, you still need to come up with the matching car at some point.