Earrings are among the oldest types of jewelry and they can be found on every continent throughout history. But how did earrings first come into fashion?

Ear piercing is possibly the oldest form of piercing in the world. It has been used to indicate the rank, status or to display wealth. Sometimes, ears were pierced for religious reasons, as is still common in some Hindu traditions. We can already find examples of earrings in early history. In archeological digs in the ancient Sumerian city of Ur, for instance, gold earrings of more than 4500 years old have been found. Earrings are even mentioned in the Bible: we know the ancient Hebrews wore gold earrings as adornment and to represent their wealth. Earrings were also immensely popular in ancient Greece and Rome: especially hoop earrings with conical pendants were very fashionable. Greeks and Romans not only used this jewelry to enhance their beauty but also to show off their wealth. The finer the materials and the more elaborate the designs, the wealthier the owner was.

ancient gold

While it was mainly women who wore earrings in ancient Rome and Greece, in other ancient societies men also wore earrings. For instance, we know from findings in the tomb of Tutankhamun that the Egyptian pharaoh’s ears were pierced. There are also carvings in the walls of the palace of Persepolis, in ancient Persia, which depict soldiers wearing an earring in one ear. In the European middle ages, earrings declined in popularity as they were banned by the Catholic church. They came back in fashion during the Renaissance. Earrings made of gold or gemstones and pearl earrings became especially popular among English gentlemen in the late 1500s. William Shakespeare is even wearing an earring in some of his portraits!

vintage earrings

Other famous male earring-wearing figures from the early modern era were, of course, pirates. In the stereotypical depiction of a historical pirate, an earring in one ear is essential. And although many of the other stereotypical attributes of pirates may have been based on fiction, the earring is based on facts! Earrings were a common accessory among sailors. A pierced earlobe was a symbol that the wearer had crossed the equator or sailed around the world. There were also legends that an earring would bring a sailor good luck, or even improve his eyesight. It has also been said that sailors wore gold earrings so that if they would die in a shipwreck, the earring could be used as payment for the undertaker, to ensure the sailor got a proper Christian burial. It is hard to say if this worked: people could just as easily put the gold earring in their pocket!

the history of wearing earrings

Ear piercing lost popularity in Western culture in the early 20th century, when clip-on earrings were invented. In the 1960s ear piercing became popular with women again. During this time, earrings also became popular in the LGBT+ community as a code to indicate one’s sexuality. An earring on the right ear would signify that a man was gay for example. By the early 1970s ear piercing had become common practice amongst women. Today, earrings are among the most frequently used types of jewelry. Many women and men have their ears pierced, sometimes even multiple times, so you can combine several kinds of earrings at the same time. Earrings will probably never go out of style!

aqua lampwork earrings


Photo Credits

March 13, 2021 — Stephanie White

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