Essential vintage fashion accessories | faux pearls

Faux pearls

Barbara Bush – image from Pinterest

As we’ve discussed before, modern fashion trends are racing toward a decidedly casual direction. Living in a world full of leggings, yoga pants, and sports bras being worn as shirts makes this vintage-loving gal clamor for the structure of yore. With this trajectory in mind, we’ll spend the next few weeks diving into the history of essential vintage fashion accessories. These are the elements that pulled together the mid-century woman’s outfit – if you chat with a lady who remembers that era you’ll often hear “I didn’t feel put together until I put on my (hat/gloves/pearls).” What would today’s woman say? “I didn’t feel put together until I grabbed my Starbucks”? It feels like in modern times our fashion accessories have changed from bejeweled treasures to disposable products. Given that shift, it’s high time we take a step back in order to move forward in an enlightened manner!

There’s no better person to bless this time-traveling journey than the forever stylish and awesome Coco Chanel, who is quoted as saying: “dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman.” With this philosophy as our guiding light, we’ll explore the history behind faux pearls, clip-on earrings, hats, and gloves. In this week’s article, we explore the surprisingly established history behind faux pearls. Let us know in the comments what other vintage style principles you follow in your day-to-day fashion choices…

Faux pearls

The pearl necklace is arguably the most iconic, most quintessential vintage fashion accessory. These little, white orbs are synonymous with class, elegance, poise, and determination. Former First Lady and all-around hero Barbara Bush famously wore her three-strand Kenneth Jay Lane necklace daily. For many women a strand of pearls (real or fake) represents entry into the elite club of grown-up ladies. This is the group of gals who get stuff done with a smile on their face and a fire in their belly. Perhaps The New York Time’s tribute to Bush sums it up the best: “soft power in fake pearls.” But just where did these little faux pearls come from? Let’s find out…

To uncover the history of the faux pearl we have to go in our time machine to the peak of the Roman civilization. Not vintage, not even antique – we’re talking ancient history! Natural pearls had been prized for some time and Julius Caesar only increased their demand further by issuing an official decree: only aristocrats could wear pearls within the borders of the Roman empire. As you can imagine, that left the average Joe (or should we say the average Julius) keen to get a fake strand of his own. And yes, dear reader, if you’re curious – pearls were a status symbol for both genders. The pearl necklace didn’t become a symbol of refined femininity until much later in cultural history.

Faux pearls

Pearl power! – image from Pinterest

Early attempts to recreate the luster of real pearls included coating glass beads with silver and painting mica powder on clay beads. After Rome, faux pearl-making traveled to China. But the process came back to the Italian shores for its biggest leap forward via the glass-blowing artists of Murano. If we jump ahead to the 1800s, studios in Paris began undertaking the effort as well. With this level of European influence, even the most-fashionable ladies were draping themselves in faux strands – at least while the sun shined. By evening they would wear their authentic pearls, but the fact that their faux counterparts were gracing the shoulders of aristocratic ladies by day showed how much credibility these beautiful beads had gained within the fashion community.

Today’s vintage-loving gal will find her faux pearls are most likely made in Majorica, an island off Spain. Their super-secret technique is so refined it’s a difficult task to pick them out in a line-up from the real deal when it comes to sheen and color. However, the biggest “tell” is that each Majorica pearl is perfectly round and 100% identical. Pearls formed in nature are unique and those quirks are what make them so valuable. Kind of funny when you think about it – natural pearls are valued for their “oddities”, while the fake versions (meant to be an homage) are valued for their “conformity.” An interesting conundrum, but isn’t that like humanity itself – a quest toward originality, with a desire to fit in? These are the hurdles we all face and perhaps by wearing pearls (whether real or fake) – we gain a little more strength as we embark on our adventures. With this thought in mind, I can see how a gal on-the-go could feel a bit more prepared for her day with a trusty strand (or three) of pearls. Next week we’ll explore another vintage fashion accessory – until then let us know your thoughts in the comments…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments will be subject to approval by a moderator. Comments may fail to be approved or may be edited if the moderator deems that they:

  • contain unsolicited advertisements ("spam")
  • are unrelated to the subject matter of the post or of subsequent approved comments
  • contain personal attacks or abusive/gratuitously offensive language