Throughout history, people have worn earrings for various reasons. For ancient tribes, earrings were a representative of a person’s identity, culture, and status. Others believed earrings gave the wearer supernatural capabilities and healing powers against various ailments. While their decorative function remains to be its main purpose, these small pieces of jewelry, like fashion trends, have changed over and over again. Below is a simple overview of the evolution of the earrings over the last one hundred years.
The history of the earrings had a rather rough start at the turn of the twentieth century. Because of associations with barbarism and low respectability, earrings had slowly disappeared from the fashion scene, with the exception of a minority who continued to sport small, screw-type earrings. Surprisingly, towards the end of the decade, the accessory experienced a sudden resurgence. In 1908, women began to wear them once again, often in small precious stones matched with the color of clothes.
During this decade, a particular trend called costume jewelry became very popular. Costume jewelry utilized accessories that matched the wearer’s clothes, which of course included earrings. Due to the popularity of this trend, the demand for earrings increased by leaps and bounds. To keep up with it, earrings were mostly made of cheaper materials, making them more affordable for the ladies.
Hoop earrings with Spanish, Egyptian, and gypsy themes were the trend in this period. Such accessories were often used as finishing touches for women’s outfits, which comprised of simple dresses and short, bobbed hair. The Art Deco style also called for bold, geometric shapes for earrings, using strongly tinted stones like onyx and lapis lazuli, contrasted against pale or whitish materials such as platinum, diamond, and silver.
1930s to 1950s
The 1930s saw the preference of earrings that were worn closer to the face to complement the new clothing trend which was high collared dresses and close-fitting hats. It was also during this period when pendant-type earrings were further enhanced with the addition of branches to mimic the shapes of chandeliers. Art Deco-inspired pieces slowly disappeared, but the artistic movement continued to influence earrings for evening wear, retaining geometric shapes but opted out of bold colors in favor of white stones like pearls and diamonds.
Trends changed yet again in the 1960s when women had outgrown the boyish bobs and decided to return to traditional long and flowing locks. Unlike the matchy costume jewelry earrings in the previous decades, the 1960s saw earrings as a standalone accessory item, independent from the rest of the wearer’s clothes. Most earrings during this time were large, intricate, and mainly decorative. They gained inspiration from tribal art and space time elements. The most popular type of earrings was dangling ones and hoops. It was also during this period when the practice of ear piercing was revived.
With fashion trends leaning towards the natural look in the 1970s, women abandoned big and bold designs and colors in exchange for smaller and more delicate pieces in subdued tones. Multiple piercings rose in popularity in the 1970s. It was not at all uncommon to find someone wearing more than one earring on an ear. It was also in the 1970s when men started to wear earrings once again after more than 300 years.
Large pendants and chunky studs in bold and bright colors were the trend in the ‘80s. Earrings in this period were both made of real gemstones and fake materials like plastics and came in solid or metallic colors, paired with contrasting shades like black. Ear clips have also risen in popularity in this decade ever since their inception in the 1970s.
1990s – Present
Earring trends in the 1990s called for simpler, minimalistic designs compared to their counterparts in the earlier decades. They often came in neon colors. Once in awhile, revivals of prior trends would resurface such as the chandelier styles of the 1930s and much tamer versions of large hooped earrings in the 1960s.
In the present day, earrings are more practical in appearance, yet elegant. They lean more into bold-colored stones and modern, innovative, and asymmetrical designs. Additionally, a rise in the demand for branded jewelry as a means to showcase wealth paved the way for increasing interest in luxury accessories, among of which are luxury earrings.
Indeed, earrings are more than just small, pretty stones that we wear every day. They serve several functions, ranging from appearance-enhancing decorative pieces to shining symbolisms of power, wealth, and status. Now that you know a bit of the history of your earrings, it’s time to slap a pair on and wear them around with pride.