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Sterling silver hoops with semi-precious gemstone made by Nicole Mölders

Piercings and wearing earrings have a long history in humankind. This post answers the questions when did people start wearing earrings, why do people wear earrings, who wore them, and how the production of ear jewelry has changed. Furthermore, it covers the different styles of earrings. By reading this post you will learn about earrings in the history of fashion and how their role in society changed over time.


What Do Earrings Mean

Why do people wear earrings is typically related to societal behavior, religious believes, and/or personal expression. In many cultures, earrings indicated tribal identity, rank, marital status and prosperity of their wearer. At one time, they may have served as amulets believed to have medical or protective powers. Independent of their original purpose, they are decorative jewelry since eons. And yes, they were worn every day. Not wearing your investment pieces is like tossing them. So what would be the point buying them in the first place?


What Was in Fashion in Ear Jewelry in the Past?



When did people start wearing earrings is hard to say because dating archeological finds has some uncertainty. Moreover, one never knows whether the oldest found piece is actually the first ever made.

During the Bronze Age (3000 BC – 1200 BC), men wore earrings in Persia. In Greece, hoops with conical pendants were popular. In antiquity, earrings were the most popular jewelry. The earliest archaeological evidence of in the history of hoops are the crescent-shaped gold hoops worn by Sumerian women around 2500 BC. Around 1000 BC, tapered (aka boat-shape) gold, silver and bronze hoops were common in West Asia and the Aegean World. Finds made in Crete and Cyprus feature embellishments with twisted gold wire, bead clusters, and pendants.


Beaded penannular earring ca. 1991–1450 BC
Beaded penannular earring ca. 1991–1450 BC


In Egypt, earrings occurred around 1500 BC. Various finds are hoops embellished with beads on wires. Many of them were mushroom-like shaped studs, and required ear piercing. The studs were put thru a relatively large hole that had to be stretched in the process.

These pieces were often made of gold with decorations of colored glass or carved jasper. There also existed studs that could be worn screwed together or alone. Some pieces had cornflower or falcon pendants as well. All genders wore them. You can find evidence in Exodus 32:1–4 (about 1500 BC). While being already on Mount Sinai, the Israelites demanded Aaron to make a God for them from their sons’ and daughters’ earrings and jewelry.


Egyptian earring ca. 1295–1186 BC
Egyptian earring ca. 1295–1186 BC. This hoops used studs and required ear piercing.


Classical Age

In the Classical Age (800 BC – 600 AD), mainly women wore these ornaments in the Middle East, in Greece and Rome. Pearls and sapphires (called hyakinthoi, i.e. hyacinths) were popular in Byzantine jewelry in the 6th century AD.


Greek earrings 6th-5th BC
Greek, Cypriot, Gold earring with lotus flower and two discs, from which hang three bud-shaped pendants. 6th–5th century BC.


5th centrury bronze and gold hoops from Greece
Greek bronze and gold hoops. 5th century BC. Dimension: 1 3/8 × 9/16 × 9/16 inch (3.5 × 1.5 × 1.5 cm)


Gold earring with pearls and sapphires, 6th–7th century, Byzantine
Gold earring with pearls and sapphires, 6th–7th century, Byzantine.



Head Gear Covered the Ears

In the Europe of the eleventh and sixteenth centuries, fashion made them obsolete. Headdresses covered the ears. Later donning this jewelry was impractical due to the high ruff and lace collars.


European pair of silver filigran ear jewelry 11th century
European pair of silver filigree ear jewelry 11th century



The Renaissance

Like so often in fashion history, a sub-culture initiated a trend and brought the ear jewelry back. English courtiers and gentlemen started wearing them in the 1590s during the English Renaissance.


French earrings 18th century
French earrings 18th century

Spanish pair of earrings 18th century
Spanish pair of earrings 18th century


Subcultures and outlaws wore ear pieces for superstitious reasons. Pirates, for instance, believed their earwear would correct bad eyesight, and prevent seasickness.


Trends Come and Go and Come Back again

In the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, this jewelry was in and out of fashion depending on what was in or out in clothing and headgear. You can’t hang something on your earlobes when you wear a bonnet, you get the idea. More on the history of hats.


Big, Bigger, … Keyholder?

In the 10s of the last century, Coco Chanel brought affordable costume jewelry on the market that worked well with her modern (read more practical hats than in the 19th century). In the fashion of the 1920s, the short hair became the perfect canvas for chandelier-like pairs. Bakelite became a big thing.

In the late 1960s, the straight long hair of the Hippies made huge pieces popular. Still today Bohemian Style dons chandeliers that could as well serve as a key holder.


1980’s Earrings Styles and Trends

As some of you may know, I took silver smiting classes when I was in college. The photos below show pieces I made in class back then.


Sterling silver studs made by me
Examples of sterling silver studs made by me in the 1980s



Other big trends in the 1980s were holiday and college major jewelry.


When Did Ear Piercing Become Common?

In the Old World piercing the earlobes was common especially in Catholic areas. However, it wasn’t before the 1950s that it became accepted in the United States. Here, typically clips and pieces that the wearer screwed to the earlobe, were common.


American earrings 1880s
American earrings 1880s


The upcoming of techniques to create Bakelite or even imitation of gemstones and to silver-plate wires was the beginning of costume jewelry. The Industrial Revolution allowed for mass production. This meant Jane Doe got access to cheap affordable earrings to feel like a Star.


My First Pair and Ear Piercings

When I was six, my sister and I got our ears pierced. First, we chose our pair from the kids collection. They were all 333 (8 K) gold as it was common in Germany in the late 1960s. My sister picked a short coral cabochon style, while I went for about 2 cm long hangers with one turquoise cabochon each. Then our parents paid and we girls were escorted to a back room. There a woman cleaned our earlobes with alcohol. She heated a needle and took an ice cube from the fridge. Then she hold the ice cube behind my earlobe and pushed the needle from the other side. Thereafter, she placed my new jewelry into the whole, and repeated the procedure on the other side. She heated the same needle again and repeated the ceremony on my sister. Incredible from today’s standard!


Modern Day Earring Trends Ask for Sustainability

A big trend is sustainable jewelry and/or jewelry from renewable resources. Wood from fallen trees or old furniture is a great material for this trend. Furthermore, wood is a light material that permits big pieces without being too heavy. This fact permits big statement pieces. Another advantage of this material is that one can cut it in all kinds of shapes. Wooden earrings are often painted.  Consequently, there are collections like fruits, church windows, music, soccer, basketball, animals, skulls and science. In the science collection, DNA is my favorite wood earring.

Another big trend in ear jewelry are pearl studs even paired with leather.

Gold or rose gold plated and recycled sterling silver name earrings are It among young women.

In the last decade, a never seen before variation came up called ear-jackets.  They have 3D-features on both sides of the lobe. More about ear jackets.




Wrapping Up the History of Earrings

Some styles exist since the Antique, while others came up as the tools permitted development of new techniques. Cultural, societal and access to resources as well as political and religious believes influenced the styles.

The large choice available today, makes finding the right pieces for you the hardest part.  Which earrings work best for your look depends on your personal style, lifestyle and where you go. Another factor worth considering is what are the best earrings for your face shape.



Döbler, Hannsferdinand, 1972. Kultur und Sittengeschichte der Welt – Kleidung, Mode, Schmuck. Bertelsmann Verlag, München, Germany.

Mascetti, Daniela and Triossi, Amanda, 1999. Earrings: From Antiquity to the Present, Thames and Hudson, ISBN 0-500-28161-0

Young, Caroline, 2016. Style Tribes, Frances Lincoln Ltd.

Young, Caroline, 2019. Living with Coco Chanel: The homes and landscapes that shaped the designer, Frances Lincoln Ltd.


Photo sources: Met and Getty museum open access

Photos of pieces made by me: N. Mölders

© 2013-2023 Nicole Mölders | All rights reserved

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