Essential vintage fashion accessories | clip on earrings
Sep 19, 2018 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
Welcome to our final post on essential vintage fashion accessories. Our last bauble may be small, but it’s mighty. Like faux pearls or the pillbox hat, earrings trace their origin to ancient times – Grecian frescos show glamourous ladies with hoop earrings and Pharaohs sported pierced ears. While earrings have always been a statement piece, the 1800s brought them to an honored place in the pantheon of fashion. What made this time period alter the trajectory of the earring? The answer lies in the maintenance of the mane. As hair was styled up, swept away from the neck, the ear was exposed. Even though this era was known for covering up, Queen Victoria invited glamour and sophistication into the everyday social scene. For the proper Victorian lady, piercing one’s skin was a huge taboo. But the need for glitz was strong – what was a gal to do? Enter the screw back earring – predecessor to the vintage clip on earrings we know and love.
Patented in 1894, this mechanical solution marked the first time earrings could be worn without a piercing. In the absence of this seemingly minor invention, the Victorian era’s chandelier earrings would have been inconceivable. The screw back earring remained popular for a generation, but by the late 1920s earring technology took another step forward. With the introduction of the hinge clip on earring, flapper girls could now accent their daring bob cuts with an equally alluring earring. Over time grooves were added to the clip to grip the ear more securely.
If we fast-forward to the 1950s, ear piercing was still considered unseemly for any respectable lady, but times had changed. Post-war enthusiasm made every aspect of life explode with joyful exuberance. Fashion designers were not immune to this celebration. Advances in manufacturing techniques (like the debut of plastic), meant that daring visions were now possible. While perhaps most legible on a large scale (like architecture), this visionary attitude seeped into fashion accessories as well. With costume jewelry reaching a zenith, female consumers were eagerly buying Coro and Trifari designs. A full collection of earrings meant women could refresh their wardrobe – transitioning from morning errands to cocktail hour with ease.
This sales boom meant that the mid-century era was the first time comfort was really addressed. If you’ve ever worn an antique screw back earring, you have an appreciation for the more modern versions of clip ons. The paddle back design was popular, but the most universally comfortable solution came a few years later. In the early 1960s designers combined the hinge with the screw back to create an earring that was both precise and easy to use. Just as the clip on style was becoming established, the flower children came. Their free-spirited whimsy eventually removed the stigma of pierced ears. In ancient times pierced ears were a symbol of status and luxury, bringing ear piercing out of the shadows in the 1960s meant the cultural significance of the earring had come full circle.
Today, earrings for the non-pierced wearer involve magnets, making them look more like their pierced counterparts. While that’s a clever use of magnetic technology I am personally drawn to the older mechanisms. There’s something inherently beautiful about these miniature structures and it’s striking to see the industrial back in contrast to the elegant front. Do you wear clip on earrings? Let us know in the comments…