Piercings have been a symbol of status and a form of human self-expression for centuries, and may have been a common practise in pre-history civilisations. Ear piercings are the most common form of piercing found around the world, most often earlobe piercings. In Victorian England, and across the reaches of the British Empire, however, the act of piercing one’s flesh had attained the label of being ‘uncouth’.
Many predecessors of the Victorians never pierced their ears, as the large collars and elaborate wigs which were the height of fashion in their time mostly covered their ears, and so the extra decoration that could be found through wearing earrings was unnecessary
Perhaps this explains why the Victorian attitude to piercings was unsavoury. Fashion had shifted in the early Victorian era, removing bonnets and ruffs that had previously dominated style, and instead bringing in lower collars and favouring hair that was styled up and tied back. The ear now being exposed left the more fashionable of Victorian jewellery enthusiasts with the problem that they wanted to adorn their ears, but did not want to pierce the lobes.
This problem led to the invention of clip-on earrings. Victorian women were free to wear whatever style earring they wished, and the screw-like fastening on the first clip-on earrings allowed them to avoid tarnishing their reputations. Another benefit of having the screw-back clip-ons was that the strength of the fastening permitted the wearing of large and elaborate ‘chandelier’ style earrings, which were exceptionally popular in the Victorian period.
Clip-On Earrings in the 20th Century
In the early 1900s, clip-on earrings maintained their popularity, and real piercings continued to be eschewed. The prototypical ‘flapper’ styles that entered the fashion scene in the late 1910s and early 1920s prominently featured short, cropped hair, mimicking more ‘masculine’ styles. Short hair like this leaves the ears exposed, and so clip-on earrings found continued popularity among young women of the 1920s and ‘30s. The large earrings that had been the height of fashion for Victorians had instead been swapped out for more simple, architectural shapes, as the Art Deco style reached a peak in popularity.
In the mid-1900s, clip-on earrings remained the most commonly purchased form of earrings, and they existed in many different types of earrings. Piercing was still seen as something reserved for sailors and miscreants for a long time. The benefits of clip-on earrings meant that heavier earrings with more elaborate designs could be worn without fear of stretching the earlobe out, as piercings could do with too much heavy-piercing wearing. Furthermore, the fact that clip-on earrings had already had such popularity meant that there was a myriad of styles available, where genuine piercings were less common, and so more limited.
By the 1970s, piercing found a new popularity among teenagers. The rebellion of body modification led many teenagers to pierce their ears, often at home with a needle and some ice. It was common practise for teenage girls to host ‘piercing parties’ where they each would pierce each other’s ears. Rebellious teenagers may have re-popularised ear piercings, but by the 1990s, when those teenagers were adults, piercing the earlobes had lost its rebellious reputation, and the teenagers of late ‘90s and early 2000s had progressed to piercing their ears in other places, as well as piercing their eyebrows, lips, tongues, and noses.
Today, clip-on earrings are not common, but still useful. For those wishing to compromise with children who want piercings, clip-on earrings are a fitting tool. Some people also find that piercings irritate their skin, leaving them prone to infections, and so clip-on earrings are ideal for those who still intend on being fashionable and finding earrings that suit them. The same argument exists for those not wishing to stretch out their piercings with heavy earrings also, clip-on earrings are the solution to this issue.
Andrew Campbell started trading in antiques during the 1970s. Initially, Andrew lived in the South of England, travelling the country, searching for items of silver to buy. Andrew sold these items at various London markets and antique fairs. Over time, and through selling at a range of venues, Andrew built up a large and diverse customer base from private buyers to national and international trade customers.