Nothing tops off an outfit like a pair of hoop earrings; they are bold, eye-catching, and make a statement. The trend of wearing hoop earrings might seem all the rage right now. However, you might be surprised to learn that the tradition is centuries-old. For thousands of years, men and women of many cultures have proudly worn hoop earrings. Hoops are some of the oldest (and boldest) accessories around--and for good reason. They are woven through numerous ancient cultures and remain a significant style trend worldwide.
But where did hoop earrings originate? Which culture was the first to wear hoops? What is the symbolism of wearing hoop earrings?
Time to do some digging into the incredible history of hoop earrings. From ancient beginnings to modern trends, encircled in this single accessory is a world of culture and tradition. Let’s have a look!
The first thing to note is that earrings have been around since ancient times. They also became popular throughout many cultures in the ancient world. Hoop earrings made their debut in areas around Mesopotamia. Historians say Sumerian women wore the first gold hoop earrings around 2500 BCE. Concurrently, the ancient peoples of the African civilization, Nubia (now Sudan), were some of the first people in the world to wear hoops.
Over time, hoops were ingrained into culture and tradition. They made a debut in Egyptian culture around 1500 BCE. What made this accessory so widely and universally beloved? Some believed hoop earrings symbolized wealth, while others wore them to emphasize beauty.
Supported by rich symbolism, hoop earrings eventually made their way into other parts of the world. Greek goldsmiths started to make hoop earrings in the first millennium, BCE. Etruscan goldsmiths weren’t far behind. The Greeks and Etruscans created their own variation, which they considered a sign of wealth and prosperity. Both cultures took pride in combining accessory with art while conceptualizing their rendition of this beloved jewelry. Each set featured intricate designs and embellishments like beads, gemstones and flowers.
Soon, hoop earrings infiltrated the expanding and dominating the Roman Empire. At first, these earrings were not welcome in Roman culture. However, hoop earrings became a popular accessory among men and women as the empire grew. Even Julius Caesar, arguably Rome’s most famous leader, wore hoops when he ruled the empire. “Veni, Vidi, Vici”? In the case of hoop earrings, it would seem so!
As Rome’s influence in the ancient world declined, other forms of hoop earrings emerged. Byzantine hoops became popular among ancient cultures. These hoops were plain gold with pearl pendants hung on chains — an unmistakable trend in the ancient world.
Did hoop earrings remain popular in subsequent years? The dark ages extinguished many trends, and hoop earrings fell out of fashion.
There are a few accounts of royal people wearing earrings in the European Middle Ages. However, it’s widely agreed that earrings, in general, fell out of style during this time in Europe. Some speculate it was because of high-collared fashion and the hairstyles of the time.
Earrings didn’t make a comeback in European culture until the 1500s when the much-desired lightness of the Renaissance resurrected jovial fashion trends. Still, many Europeans favored either clasp earrings or pear-shaped pendants.
With the lack of success on land, hoops surprisingly became a sea trend worn by pirates.
There’s speculation that pirates wore gold hoops as a congratulation for making it through a tough voyage. Others believe they wore hoops as an amulet for protection. And some thought wearing them would cure seasickness, while others believed they would prevent a man from falling overboard. Regardless of the reason, it’s clear that pirates loved hoop earrings! Who knew?
While more simply designed earrings rose in popularity in the 18th and early 19th centuries, hoop earrings continued to be a hidden gem in cultures around the world.
Hoops made a global comeback in the early 19th century. To what do we owe our thanks for bringing hoops back into mainstream fashion? Turns out, designers were channeling inspiration from ancient cultures! They looked at Roman and Greek fashion trends and designing jewelry that embellished the romantic aesthetic.
Hoop earrings dipped in and out of popularity during the rest of the 1800s. Their popularity largely depending on what hairstyle women donned at the time. If the hairstyle covered up the ears, then were was virtually no need to wear earrings at all. But if the ears were on display? Hoop earrings came out to play.
Earrings gained steady momentum in the early 20th century. Some Western cultures protested ear-piercing altogether as they considered it a barbaric act. Many people associated ear piercing with Native American and Latin cultures, which created a stigma in Western culture. Ironic, then, considering Western culture so widely adopted it years later.
As fashion and hairstyles changed in the 1920s, earrings once again became a popular accessory. The hoop earring, in particular, caught a big break with the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb in Egypt in 1922. Western societies looked back to ancient styles and rituals, and soon enough, women across the globe wore hoops, commonly with a bob haircut. With the emergence of Hollywood, celebrities wore earrings into the 1940s and 1950s. And on the heels of this major trend was a decade that would define hoop earrings forever.
In the 1960s, more and more women straightened their hair and wore hoop earrings. They became a symbol of female power during the feminist movement, especially among African American and Latina women. Hoop earrings became synonymous with female empowerment during the ‘60s and ‘70s and were the accessory of choice to make a statement.
More working-class Latina and African American women began to wear hoops in the 1980s. It continues to be a central accessory within these communities. For many of these women, the hoop earring is more than an accessory but embedded into their pride and empowerment as women of color. It’s a symbol of their culture, ancestry and strength.
Recently, there’s been some debate over whether people wearing hoop earrings as a fashion trend is a form of cultural appropriation. Women and men have worn hoop earrings throughout the centuries, and they remain an important part of cultural identity and tradition.
What makes them so important is that they hold special meaning for each person. Above all, when you wear hoop earrings, you exercise your independence as a woman and make a bold statement. “I am woman, hear me roar”... in my hoop earrings, of course.
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