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A Piercing History: The Life and Times of the Earring

Aug 27, 2008
With the advent of the earring dating back to 2500 B.C., according to various sources, there's no denying this body adornment has endured many trends and styles. Today, earring fashions are as varied as their history and may be may be worn by both women and men.

For such a small item, the earring has wielded a dramatic influence through the centuries and in countless cultures. Ancient Persian carvings reveal soldiers donning earrings. In Egypt, ear ornaments, such as "earplugs" became fashionable some 1,500 years ago and were worn even by King Tutankhamen. Wealthy women of the Roman Empire used earrings to denote status. And the Greeks were known for decorating their statues of revered soldiers with earrings. Sapphires, emeralds and aquamarines were used regularly to adorn the earring by the 2nd century A.D.

During the Byzantine period, however, the earring took a backburner in favor of elaborate headdresses and hairstyles. This look of the Middle Ages caused earrings to become nearly nonexistent. Then, in 16th-century Italy, a change in fashions brought about the return of the earring when high-collar dress faded out of style and women began to wear their hair up and away from the face. It took France and England another century before changes in elaborate neck costuming made way for the earring. After its popularity returned, attention to earring design lasted for two centuries. Created from gold and silver, the girandole earring featured three pear-shaped, gem-laden drops on a hook. One drawback - the weight of the earrings was known to cause elongated ear lobes.

The girandole earring was replaced later in the 18th century with the pendeloque earring, which was much lighter and longer in length. The pendeloque was a perfect complement to the intricate hairdos and wigs of the day. In the 1800s, jewelry designers began to mount gemstones on open back claw settings. Light reflecting through the gemstone enhanced its color and brilliance. However, earrings faced a decline again once women began wearing their hair in a knot at the back, hiding the ears completely. The wearing of ornate and simple bonnets also made the wearing of earrings temporarily obsolete.

Women enjoyed a new freedom in ear wear in the early 20th century with the invention of the screw-back earring. Piercing one's ear oftentimes was considered barbaric. With the advent of the screw-back, more women were able to reconcile the wearing of earrings. Additionally, screw-backs offered greater freedom with style and shape of earrings that were comfortable to wear. With the surge of the Roaring '20s and art deco style, women wore long chandelier, angled and straight designs. Ear adornment also became popular among U.S. sailors during this time. Legend holds that a pierced ear typically meant that the sailor had crossed the equator or sailed around the world. A piercing in the left ear suggested that the sailor survived a tragic disaster, such as a shipwreck.

By the 1930s, the ease of earrings had truly arrived with the invention of the clip on. These handy devices for wearing earrings were an improvement over screw backs. As hairdos climbed shorter following World War II, earrings filled that space from hair to shoulder. By the 1960s, ear piercing made a comeback.

The "everything goes" attitude of the '70s opened the door towards new trends for earrings. All types of earrings could be worn for any occasion or style. And, once again it became an en vogue choice for men as well. From the punk rock movement to disco to sports and celebrities, men began accessorizing their styles with earrings. A diamond stud or small hoops remain the preference in many male circles. For today's women, earrings come in an endless variety of choices - chandelier, hoops, buttons, studs, dangles, as well as in a wide variety of materials - silver, gold, gemstones, diamonds, pearls, and plastic, to name a few.

After centuries of changes, earrings have found their place in fashion history as one of the most versatile and best loved pieces of adornment. For whatever whim or taste, there's a pair of earrings to coincide.
About the Author
Lewis Jewelers is proud to carry the full line of Pandora Jewelry. Pandora bracelets, Pandora charms and Pandora beads are only a part of the collection. For more information, Lewis Jewelers, 2000 West Stadium Blvd., Ann Arbor, Michigan, 48103, 877-88-LEWIS or visit the website.
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