Vintage refers to anything that is older than 20 years but not younger than 100 years. Earrings are one of the types of jewelry commonly used and were subject to the changes in fashion throughout the ages. When you think of vintage earrings, most probably you imagine glamorous pieces inspired from the jewelry worn by Hollywood stars. Yes, Hollywood really had a big influence not just on film styles and fashion, but also on jewelry trends – but other factors have also played a role in vintage earring trends.
When we talk about vintage styles, it included art nouveau pieces. Though the real art nouveau era has ended by about 1915 (making it antique), it has gone on to influence styles through the last century. Art nouveau is a time when floral, animal and other nature-based motifs are trendy. The design interpretation doesn’t have to be literal, sometimes it’s abstract or a combination of several elements. Mostly, it is in the form of drop style, where there’s a section to the design dropping at the bottom.
During the 1930s, vintage jewelry styles are highly influenced by the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. Since it was the decade of the Great Depression (when people’s budgets are constrained and businesses are experiencing difficulties), designers had to make cost-cutting methods for design and material quality. Even wealthy women in society were forced to look at less expensive options to add to their jewelry collections. But because of the glamorous Hollywood effect, most women still wore more jewelry, and they’re sparkling.
One of the most common jewelry style during the 1930s was the white on white sparkly ones. The more sparkle, the better. Since this era was the rise of the silver screen, when movies are in black and white, jewelry with sparkling stones are more recognizable than colored stones and gems. Leading female stars easily became style icons. There has been a demand for similar-looking jewelry from movie-goers, so designers imitated and mass-produced the style. Rhinestones became a popular alternative for diamond since it is more affordable. To achieve the most sparkle while keeping it cheap, they used paste, which is made from ground glass heated with other elements and mixed together.
Jewelry designers who sold to Hollywood were also inspired by the modernistic Art Deco movement for design inspiration. The industrialization of the world at that time inspired the designers to combine edges and a splash of color to contrast the plain color of diamonds.
But it wasn’t always diamonds. Earrings made of other gems were also available. Since earrings are not as visible as bracelets and necklaces since they can be partly hidden by the hair, designers created earrings with more color to grab attention. Art deco earrings were great at separating colors.
During the Art Deco period, common motifs for jewelry also include star and moon designs. Chanel designed jewelry with clusters of stars during the early 1930s and was mimicked by other designers. Hedy Lamarr, a Hollywood bombshell and glamour queen, also starred in the 1941 film Ziegfeld Girl in a costume featuring shiny stars all over her gown, accessories, and headdress.
In the 1950s, art deco had a comeback. Bursts of color were again contrasted with white metal and/or diamonds or rhinestones, but designs have been more inclined with the natural than the geometric, like curled leaves, shells and flowers. Earrings feature lines that are more open and fluid and often bends to the shape of the earlobe. This type of earrings was boldly elegant, still showing off inspirations that shout Hollywood glamour.
Pearls were also popular during that time and are still favored by a lot of women until today. During the 1920s, Chanel made the long strands of pearls trendy once again, and the style has remained for decades. Strands of pearls are typical for necklaces, but when used for earrings, it is usually in a form of a stud or combined with platinum and rhinestones, diamonds or other gems. Nothing has changed much in the form of pearl earrings – it still gives off that subtly elegant look up to this day.
Metal was in shortage during the war and the resources available were dedicated into making military equipment, so jewelry makers needed an alternative. Besides that, titanium, high-grade stones and cultured pearls were also in a very shorty supply. Instead, sterling silver was used to create jewelries. No longer was jewelry something to save up for – it can be bought at a more affordable price range. Sterling silver is still a popular jewelry material until today.
During the 1940s, jewelry shifted from predominantly art deco pieces to cocktail jewelry. As masculine clothing was adopted by more and more women, jewelry becomes the only feminine detail on their outfits. For it to be visible, jewelry was made larger, more distinctive and more colorful. For earrings, white metal and rhinestones are still used, but it became more of a base for larger colored gemstones, or even less elegant materials like shells, plastic, fabric, glass and wood. After the World War II, earring styles tended to be bold, striking, and big – whether in the form of studs, clusters, hoops and drop dangle. Big, colorful gemstones like aquamarine, emerald, sapphire, topaz, amethyst, and rubies are also commonly added to cocktail earrings. The popularity of cocktail jewelry showed that you can still be glamorous with novelty items. A lot of drop earrings sold today do not look far from the vintage cocktail earrings.
Vermeil, which is also known as gold-plated, is another affordable jewelry alternative during the 1940s. A vermeil earring has a silver base, and then plated with gold to give an appearance that it is made of gold, but it was simply coated. Since it is cheaper than jewelries made of pure gold, it became a popular choice. Up until today, gold-plated earrings are still worn by a lot of women today, and are preferred by those who want to spend less.
Whatever your preference for earrings are – whether it’s drops, studs, hoops, clip-on or others – going vintage can make you feel and look truly glamorous.