Earrings are often seen as a fashion statement that accentuates an outfit or hairstyle. However, the origins of the body modification are deeply rooted in religious, tribal and social beliefs. For a time in the 1980s, it was purported that a man’s sexual preference could be determined by whether he wore an earring in his left or right ear. While the shape of earrings has evolved to such choices as barbells, ear threads or Huggies, archeological evidence suggests hoops were worn by soldiers of the Persian Empire around 1600 BCE. From the ancient city of Persepolis to King Tut’s tomb to pop star George Michael, earrings remain a popular accessory. Here are 9 things you didn’t know about earrings.
A Fashion Accessory from the Olden Times: 9 Earring Facts You Probably Didn’t Know
Little-known Facts About Earrings
1. Earrings were historically worn by men more than women.
In the present day, earrings are generally thought of as women’s jewelry and are marketed as such. However, historically, men wore earrings just as frequently as women do now, if not more so. This is because for much of the world’s history, men were the holders of wealth and women were viewed as possessions themselves.
William Shakespeare, King Tut and Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, are just a few examples of men throughout different times in history who were known to wear earrings.
Even Otzi the Iceman, a mummy from between 3400 and 3100 BCE, had boreholes in his ear lobe consistent with an ear-piercing. The holes were also stretched to a diameter of 7 and 11 millimeters.
When King Tut’s tomb was opened, the Egyptian pharaoh’s death mask had earring boreholes. While the holes were covered with gold discs, earrings were found within the tomb itself.
2. Pirates adorned earrings to protect them from bad luck.
Ahoy, Matey! Fictional pirates, such as Jack Sparrow, are often portrayed as decked out in swashbuckling fashion. Multiple hoop earrings are frequently part of this depiction of the bandits of the high seas.
Earrings were more than a fashion statement. Many pirates thought of the piercings as a talisman that protected them against the bad vibes of the sea. Pirates are considered a very superstitious group.
Their earring of choice was often precious metal, such as gold, thought to have healing powers. Many believed the material in the earrings would ward off seasickness and prevent anyone who wore earrings from drowning in the raging sea.
3. The Bible mentions earrings.
In Exodus 32:1-4, the Bible tells the story of how Aaron came to make a golden calf out of the gold from the Israelites’ earrings. It is written that when Moses doesn’t come down from Mount Sinai for a long time, the Israelites surround Aaron and demand that he, “Come, make us gods who will go before us.”
In response, Aaron tells them to remove their earrings. “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons, and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” They follow his command and Aaron fashions a golden calf from the precious metal.
Images of Buddha are adorned with heavy earrings that stretch his earlobes, as Siddhārtha Gautama did prior to his enlightenment as a sign of his wealth and status. After his enlightenment, he eschewed all material possessions, but the image of him with distended earlobes persists in tribute to his self-sacrifice.
4. Sailors wore earrings to mark a journey around the world.
Sailors and pirates had many of the same superstitions. Sailors also believed earrings warded off bad luck, seasickness and the risk of drowning. They also erroneously believed ear piercings would improve their eyesight.
In older times, sailors pierced their earlobes to symbolize that they had crossed the equator, sailed around the globe or survived a difficult trek, such as one through the treacherous Cape Horn.
In another biblical reference, sailors chose earrings of gold or other value to pay for proper burial if they should shipwreck or drown and their bodies washed ashore on foreign soil. This evokes the biblical story of placing a gold coin under the tongue to pay Charon, the ferryman, for passage across the Styx River.
5. The poor view of piercing earlobes in the 20th century resulted in the invention of clip-on.
While earrings historically were an indication of status and wealth, views began to change in the American puritanical early 20th century. What was seen for thousands of years as proper accessories suddenly became improper and uncouth?.
As a result of this change in societal standards, clip-on earrings that eliminated the need for piercings were invented. So-called “good girls” wore clip-ons or screw-back earrings to conform to these new standards imposed by society.
This practice of wearing clip-on continued well into the 1950s until the traditional pierced earlobes came back into style in the 1960s.
6. Nine Different Parts of Your Ear Can Be Pierced
As societal standards changed, so did the placement of ear piercings. There are nine different locations on the ear that are popular for piercings; thirteen total if you count doubling up in the lobe and cartilage. The different parts of the ear that can be pierced are:
- Helix/Cartilage – Captive or spiral rings are the starter jewelry of choice for cartilage piercings.
- Industrial – Captive bead rings are a starter option until a barbell can be switched out
- Rook – Captive rings are the starter jewelry often used for rook piercings
- Daith – Captive bead rings are most popular for daith piercings
- Tragus – Labret studs are the starter jewelry of choice for tragus piercings
- Snug – Small captive beads are the best choice for snug piercings
- Conch – A labret stud works best as the starter jewelry for conch piercings
- Anti-Tragus – Labret studs are the preferred jewelry for anti-tragus piercings
- Lobe – Studs are placed in lobe earrings to start with
Earlobe stretching is another type of body modification that has risen in popularity since the late 1990s. It was originally seen in indigenous cultures for centuries before it arrived in pop culture. You can see Adina’s Jewels products for examples of jewelry to use with many of these piercings.
7. ‘Piercing Parties’ were popular in the 1950s and 60s.
Once clip-on earrings fell out of favor, ear piercings ruled the day. However, while piercing kiosks were in every mall in America by the 1980s, they weren’t yet a thing in the 1960s.
Instead, piercings were done at home with ice and a needle. Teenage girls held ‘piercing parties” similar to the one in the 1978 movie Grease. In the film, “good girl” Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) had her ears pierced by her group of “bad influence” friends. Sandy getting her ears pierced in the movie was the beginning of her transformation from “girl-next-door” to a female greaser.
Parents of young daughters often had their family doctor pierce the little girl’s ears, especially if the girl was often mistaken for a boy. Of course, nowadays, piercings are common in both males and females, offering no indication of identifying their gender.
8. Some cultures have ear-piercing ceremonies.
Ear piercings have a long, storied history in religious and cultural ceremonies throughout the world. In some parts of the world, ear-piercing ceremonies are performed on young boys and the earrings are worn until adolescence.
In India, the earlobes of babies – male and female – are pierced shortly after birth, as has been their custom for centuries.
Africa, Turkey, and South America are just a few of the countries where tribal people believe ear piercings as a way to ward off demons. The tribes believe evil enters the body through the ears and only metal repels the evil spirits.
9. They used to be a sign of slavery.
According to the Bible, ear piercings are the markings of a bondslave. In two different sections of the Bible, it is written almost word-for-word of what to do with a slave who, when offered his freedom, chooses to stay with his owner. The answer, according to the Good Book, is to nail him to the door by his ear.
“…his master shall take him before God. He shall be brought to the door or the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall then remain his slave for life” (Exodus 21:6).
“If your brother, a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you, he shall serve you six years, and in the seventh year, you shall let him go free from you…But if he says to you, ‘I will not go out from you,’ because he loves you and your household since he is well-off with you, then you shall take an awl, and put it through his ear into the door, and he shall be your slave forever.” (Deuteronomy 15:12-17).
To Pierce or Not To Pierce: That is the Question
Earrings have been used in body modification for thousands and thousands of years, whether it is for cosmetic, religious or ritualistic reasons. What began as simple gold hoops can now be purchased in any of the following styles: French hook earrings, labret studs, circular barbells, captive bead rings, bent barbells, plugs, tunnels, and more.
Your piercing, or lack thereof, denotes your own personal style and should only be decided by you.