Outer Armor: A New Take On Masculinity
Embellish your Fall outerwear with covetable hardware—this season’s unlikely staple.
When Harry Styles arrived at the 2019 Met Gala—the annual fundraiser for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute—he caused a stir. Or rather the small object dangling from his ear did: a single pearl earring. The jewel launched a thousand online articles, a million social media posts, while Styles was dubbed “the boy with the pearl earring.” In recent years, the idea that jewelry is just for women has washed away. Where once men would only wear wedding or signet rings, now they are making bolder choices, wearing not only rings but earrings, necklaces and bracelets.
The history of men’s jewelry stretches back to the ancient world, where jewelry crafted from shells, stone, bones and later, gold was a universal adornment. In Medieval Europe, royalty and the nobility donned gold, silver and precious gems, primarily as status symbols, but also because of the protective powers they were believed to possess. This continued into the Renaissance, where particular types of stone were believed to protect against ailments such as toothaches. Sir Walter Raleigh, the 16th-century bon vivant, wore a pearl earring to show his devotion to Elizabeth I, who was regularly pictured in pearls to symbolize her unmarried chastity. Outside Europe, the Maharajas of the Mughal dynasty adorned themselves with jewels, often to epic proportions. In the modern world, men’s jewelry took on a life of its own. In the ’80s, pioneers of hip-hop drew on African aesthetics. Schoolly D, for example, characterized wearing gold as a kind of rallying cry: “This goes back to Africa…Artists in the rap field are battling. We’re the head warriors. We got to stand up and say we’re winning battles, and this is how we’re doing it,” he once told Spin. The following decade, men’s jewelry, rebranded as “bling,” entered the mainstream, with fashion houses such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton launching in-house lines.
But it wasn’t until the 2010s that men’s jewelry really exploded—perhaps a result of the enduring popularity of hip-hop, but also the advent of men’s fashion weeks and the attendant fashion blogosphere. Meanwhile, as our attitudes on gender were relaxing, Gucci’s Alessandro Michele was ushering in a maximalist, more-is-more aesthetic, in which flamboyance and freedom were at a premium. Today, a generation of public figures—Tyler, the Creator, Timothée Chalamet and, yes, Harry Styles—are beacons of embellishment. With all the fun they seem to be having, notions of gender-specific jewelry are just a fading glimmer of the past.
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