Are gold hoop earrings the ‘string of pearls’ of the modern age?

·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Win McNamee/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Win McNamee/Getty Images

They are finishing touch to any look but their cultural history – from Angela Davis to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – is complex and should be acknowledged

Pearls ruled the 20th century. Jackie Kennedy described them as “always appropriate”. Diana Vreeland once fired off a memo to staff demanding to see more of them on the pages of Vogue: “Nothing gives the luxury of pearls,” she insisted. Oscar Wilde said they made one “look so plain, so good and so intellectual”. Anna Wintour, returning from a White House lunch where she, the then first lady Hillary Clinton and a visiting Princess Diana had all been wearing them, remarked that “you just can’t go wrong”.

For the same universal style plaudits to apply now, you just need to swap pearls for gold hoops. They are the understated finishing touch that works for anyone, anywhere, any time of day or night. They are discreet enough for the office, but have party attitude when required. With gold hoops you are never overdressed nor underdressed.

Hailey Bieber
Hailey Bieber is rarely seen without gold hoops in her ears. Photograph: MEGA/GC Images

Flick through Vogue now and gold hoops are as ubiquitous as strings of pearls once were. In the November UK issue, Adele teams gold hoops with a spectacular Hollywood blowdry and a white feather coat; supermodel-of-the-moment Paloma Elsesser wears hers with slicked-back hair and a Dolce & Gabbana bustier. Hailey Bieber, née Baldwin, is rarely seen without a pair the size of saucers.

But who do gold hoops belong to? Before becoming mainstream, gold hoops were classified as “urban” or “downtown” glamour, with all the uncomfortable racial undertones that those labels imply. So how close does a landgrab of the gold hoop by a demographic already rich with pearl necklaces and diamond studs come to cultural appropriation?

Related: Hoop dreams: 10 of the best gold hooped earrings

When Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was sworn into Congress in 2019 wearing a white trousersuit, red lipstick and gold hoops, she tweeted that her look was inspired by the progressive and Bronx-born US supreme court justice Sonia Sotomayor – who, when she was sworn in as the first Latina justice in American history, was advised to wear neutral-coloured nail polish to avoid scrutiny: “Next time someone tells Bronx girls to take off their hoops, they can just say they’re dressing like a congresswoman.”

Frances Solá-Santiago, a fashion writer from Puerto Rico based in New York, wrote that the look was “a radical act”, celebrating hoops as “a cultural touchstone” of Latina womanhood.

Related: Not just any old bag: as handbags have shrunk, the tote has taken over | Jess Cartner-Morley

When Marc Jacobs accessorised a collection inspired by early New York hip-hop with hoops the diameter of a cola can in 2017, he described them as “an acknowledgement of, and gesture of my respect for, the polish and consideration applied to fashion from a generation that will forever be the foundation of youth culture street style.”

But while we have moved on from the era when Carrie Bradshaw wore “ghetto gold for fun”, high-street jewellery stands don’t tend to feature footnotes honouring their influences. Many believe the rich history of an adornment that threads back from Angela Davis to Nina Simone, to Frida Kahlo to Nefertiti, risks being flattened through overexposure.

When Coco Chanel popularised strings of costume pearls, she prised apart the decorative merit of jewellery from its monetary value – and paved the way for gold hoops as a fashion accessory. But jewellery can never be divorced from wealth or from status – as every pearl-clutching debutante knew. A gold hoop may well be the perfect modern finishing touch. But it is also much more.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting