Fella’s… put your pinky rings up to the sky! Songs like Bruno Mars’ “24kt Magic” epitomizing gents rings and Pharrell’s gorgeous diamond brooch and layers upon layers of Chanel chains that he wore at the Oscar’s are bringing the image of bejeweled gents to the stage… again?
A few centuries ago, men wore jewelry with great alacrity- it was as much for men as it was for women. Rings, necklaces, pins brooches- you name it, men wore it, regardless of class or stature. In fact, the earliest forms of jewelry were not only worn by men, they were given from master to servant to denote ownership. These items, usually in the form of a ring, would actually be used almost like the world’s first credit cards, allowing the servant to purchase wares and goods at market under the pretense that the master would be billed by the merchant.
Necklaces were long worn by men in the clergy as a talisman or protective badge, denoting faith and dispelling evils, chains long used to denote status and wealth, layered upon a man’s dorset, or under an extravagant layer of ruffles were popular in the 15th-17th centuries. From the burials of Tutankhamun covered in gold in ancient egypt to as recent as the 18th century, we can see men strutting their stuff on the fashion scene, dripping in jewelry, representing everything from love, death, power, wealth, status and ownership.
Today, we see men’s jewelry exemplified; large pendants, rings and gold chains usually associated with Hip-Hop moguls, usually associated with dressing down, more than dressing up. More often than not, men’s jewelry has become greatly subdued, boiling down to watches, finer chains, simpler rings and the occasional pair of cuff links. So what happened there? Why did men stop wearing jewelry, especially when women never seemed to lose their taste for it?
At the turn of the 19th century, something changed, and men hung up their chains and traded them in for tie tacs, and their signet rings for wedding bands, as the intellectual movement that came to be known as the Enlightenment brought with it a new respect for the rational and useful and an emphasis on education rather than privilege. Men’s fashion shifted towards more practical clothing. In England, aristocrats began to wear simplified clothes that were linked to their work managing country estates. In the US, men got to work conquering a newly industrialized nation.
It was the beginning of what has been called the Great Male Renunciation, which would see men abandon the wearing of jewelry, bright colors and ostentatious fabrics in favor of a dark, more sober, and homogeneous look. This trend held on in fashion for nearly 200 years. Men were no longer allowed to express themselves the same way they once were, but a comeback was on the horizon- in the form of free love and even free-er fashion choices.
The 60’s came in with a vengeance, rebellion in every sense rocked all corners of our globe and the restricting rules of how men (and women) should dress were thrown out the window. Beads and fabrics, chains and pendants were seen more often, jewelry being used to accessorize and tell stories in ways it had done for a millennia before. Fast forward to the 80’s and 90’s with yellow gold dominating many-a-man’s wardrobe. Men’s earring fashion returned, layers of chains, bracelets and watches were prevalent in fashion again- and again- without regard to class or status. Everyone seemed to own gold, thanks to media influences from all walks of life from Mr. T to Elton John; Bruce Springsteen to Tupac.
Today, we see that the availability of gold and jewelry is still present for both men and women, but why aren’t males wearing it along the same trends as females? We’ll, in some ways- they are; largely reserved for the world of Haute Couture and High Fashion, men’s jewelry is taking a stand and dominating recent shows like the TEFAF, the world’s largest art fair, where male jewelry was obvious and attractive, men from many nationalities proudly wearing and displaying brooches and lapel pins as they would a boutonniere.
Even still- a recent google search for men’s jewelry will pull up a handful of articles on why men shouldn’t wear jewelry, or limiting them to only 3 choices- a watch, a ring and cuff links- which is especially ironic coming from fashion magazines; fashion being an industry steeped in a rich history of breaking the rules, often in the same breath that they are written.
So where do we go from here? In today’s world of expressionism and freedoms, men should reach out for any options that make them feel the way that women do when we wear jewelry. Power and love, sentiment and emotion. Guys- there is nothing wrong with wearing your heart on your sleeve- or lapel, neck, wrist, or finger.