“Saffron Gatherer” from a Minoan fresco in Akrotiri, Santorini (1600 BC)
Source: Public Domain
Jewellery is not just decoration, it's a historic source of information that tells the story of the hopes and fears, resistance and resilience of the women who wore the pieces. One particular piece of jewellery that has stood the test of time for thousands of years is hoop earrings.
The origins of hoop earrings
Dating as far back as the Bronze Age, hoop earrings were created in gold, silver and you guessed it, bronze. Archaeological evidence shows that Middle Eastern (Sumerian) women were amongst the first to adorn themselves with hoop earrings, which were worn as a symbol of cultural identify and protection. By around 2500 BC they started to share the fashion with parts of Asia and Africa. The Ancient Egyptians whole heartedly embraced hoop earrings, adding to them their own religious symbols and precious gemstones. Men, women (and even cats!) wore them to showcase their wealth and power.
Sumerian Hoop Earring (2600–2500 B.C).
Source: The Met Museum
Hoop earrings appear in archaeological findings from many other ancient civilisation. Etruscan goldsmiths were amongst the artisans who cast some of the most stunning designs ever seen using embellishments like beads, precious gemstones and flowers.
Pair of Etruscan Gold and Garnet Earrings (4th - 3rd Century B.C).
Source: The British Museum
The Romani are one of many fascinating examples of the historic and cultural power of hoop earrings. Romani women continue to wear the hoop earrings that their ancestors wore in their Northern India homeland in much the same way they value other cultural traditions. Romani hoops are often very large and adorned with beads and designs influenced by traditional Indian jewellery. Being so closely associated with their culture and heritage these particular accessories are treasured by Romani women.
Romani woman wearing hoop earrings (1800's)
The decline of hoop earrings
The decline of the Roman Empire and the start of the Dark Ages saw earrings fall out of fashion for most of Europe. The elaborate hairstyles and collars that were popular during that period left little need for earrings. However, all was not lost and strangely enough they found a home with seafaring gentlemen. There’s much speculation as to why pirates wore gold hoops. It's most likely the gold hoops ensured that if a pirate went overboard and his body washed ashore the gold could be used as payment for his burial!
Hoop earrings bounce back
The 17th Century saw earrings becoming popular once again though mainly through pearl and diamond pear shaped drops. Moving on to the 1900s, the fashion was for much shorter women's hairstyles as they entered the ‘Roaring Twenties’ fashion revolution. Coupled with the discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922 the ‘exotic’ became an obsession and so the love affair with bold hoop earrings was reignited.
Theda Bara as Cleopatra in the film Cleopatra (1917).
Hoop earrings went on to become the signature look of the 60s and 70s in America and Europe as a symbol of female empowerment during the feminist movement. They were especially treasured amongst, Latino, Hispanic and African American women as a link to their heritage and culture. Often passed down through generations as treasured heirlooms. Many female artists like Cher, Diana Ross and Tina Turner wore bold large hoop as the accessory of choice to make a statement.
Jazz singer Nina Simone (1969).
Hoop earrings today
Throughout history they have been a symbol of power, unity, femininity and a link to heritage. Today, hoop earrings continue to be a tradition in many cultures as well as one of the most popular female fashion accessories of all time. What makes them so important is that they hold special meaning for each person who wears them.
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