Is it a way to be cool or does it make you look like a fool? Does it make a dent in your masculinity or does it enhance your urbane look and sartorial attire?
The answers are actually far more complicated than you might think.
A Brief History of Male Jewelry
In ancient Rome, the average man would have loved to wear jewelry, but he was forbidden by the rule of law. According to Roman sumptuary laws, only men of high status were allowed to wear rings.
In Western society, wearing earrings were considered effeminate during the 19th and earlier half of the 20th century. Then toward the last part of 20th century and the present century, a counter-culture rose to defy the establishment. It celebrated body jewelry, especially piercings, as a badge of courage. Hip hop culture then made it fashionable to become ostentatious about jewelry, referring to it as bling.
In the early part of the early 20th century, the jewelry industry got behind the idea of popularizing wedding rings. Initially, this idea flew against religious sentiment and it took decades to change the strong anti-jewelry sentiment. Christianity quoted Revelations 17 to condemn it while Islam considered it haraam for a man to be interested in gold ornamentation. Both these major religions were opposed to the idea of jewelry for men because of the risk of heavy ornamentation promoting arrogance and pride.
Despite this strong social and religious disinclination for a man to wear any form of jewelry, the jewelry industry managed to erode the popular sentiment against jewelry for men through sheer persistence. In the 1920s, only 15% of marriages favored the idea of a man wearing a ring on his wedding.
But by the 1940s,a full two decades later, 85% of weddings featured a ceremony with gold rings for both the bride and groom.
Today, jewelry stores proudly display their black gold wedding bands for men. In fact, a gold ring on a man’s finger symbolizes someone who has made a commitment to his marriage. It implies a man who is honorable and trustworthy, someone who stays true to his word. Unlike earlier times, it does not send out a signal of arrogance or effeminacy.
While the idea of rings on men has now become not only acceptable but admired, there is only a narrow selection of jewelry considered acceptable by society. These consist of rings, cufflinks, tie bars, and time pieces.
Three Cardinal Rules for Men’s Jewelry
Here are the three main rules to wear jewelry without looking defiantly antiestablishment or weird:
1. Prefer simplicity.
If you wear a jeweled watch, white gold or silver is considered classy. If you wear a wristband or necklace, it should be thin and unobtrusive rather than look like a chain. Rick Edwards in an article in The Guardian entitled “Men’s fashion tips: jewelery for men” offers this useful suggestion:
“Obviously, don’t wear too many items at once and never mix silver and gold. Don’t wear religious iconography unless you subscribe to the religion. If in doubt, go for simplicity. A plain silver ring will always be better than one with a Celtic pattern.”
2. Use Good Taste:
Most jewelry for men is metallic. You’re unlikely to see big stones. Ideally, it should be all the same type of metal. Mixing up different metals for different ornaments is considered tacky. The most popular metals are gold, silver, chrome, copper, and bronze.
The type of metals worn relate to the clothes, with silvery hues worn with cooler colors and gold hues with warmer colors. Gold is seen as the best color for the day while silver is reserved for the night. In addition, good taste also means that jewelry should abide by certain dress codes. If working for IBM, even tiny diamond stud earrings makes people stand out as distinctly odd.
3. Avoid Ostentation.
Jewelry is considered unostentatious if it is not worn as a symbol of success, wealth, or power. What is considered ostentatious? Perhaps this definition from Real Men Real Style on how to properly wear male jewelry will make the point a little clearer:
“A man’s jewelry is a very important part of his ensemble. If he wears too much, he looks pretentious and artificial. If he wears it correctly, the ornamentation can significantly increase the quality of his look.”
So, should real men wear jewelry?
Actually, our society is now liberal enough to not think twice about it. While certain subcultures make the idea of jewelry a statement, mainstream culture is not opposed to men wearing jewelry in moderation.
While the taboo against men wearing jewelry is considered a historical footnote, men have to be more conservative than women when it comes to wearing jewelry in mainstream culture. The simple rules of keeping it simple, wearing it in good taste, and avoiding ostentation can help a man look good rather than outlandish.