photo by 2nd truth photography
Historically, the finest jewels and gold were worn by royalty as a way to denote status—exemplified in grand style earlier this year in The Habsburgs: Rarely Seen Masterpieces from Europe’s Greatest Dynasty, a Minneapolis Institute of Art exhibition showcasing the family’s heirlooms.
The rejection of clothing and jewelry can be equally symbolic; Buddhist monks give away everything they own to signify leaving the concerns of the physical world behind, for instance.
In my case, adornment is less a way to show my social status or symbolize my beliefs as it is a tool of self-expression. I pick a piece to wear based on my mood as well as an image I want to project.
My favorite jewelry pieces are linked by a common thread: I treasure those most that tell a story, whether of my own personal history or of the piece itself. For example, a trio of sterling silver rings containing turquoise and black-and-white onyx stones that I plucked from my mother’s jewelry box as a teenager. She purchased the rings while teaching art at Yankton College in South Dakota. They perfectly suited her long, center-parted hippie hairstyle—as well as my long, piano-player fingers. For me, those rings signified a step forward in my style evolution and a way to connect me to my personal history.
Another one of my biggest style influences as a teenager was my flame-haired aunt/godmother LuAnn, who was almost never seen without a stack of silver bangles on each wrist and an eclectic array of rings on nearly every finger. At the time, it was a relatively new look; she only started wearing jewelry when she was well into her 40s. “I wanted to be flashy and have this stuff making noise,” she says of her now-signature bangles. “I knew it was bangles, and a lot of them.” For aunt Lu, her jewelry isn’t about showing off. “It’s just my personal thing and I like it,” she says. “I just figure if you’re going to wear something you might as well have people notice—the more, the better.”
Though I typically opt for more minimalist pieces, such as my gold-plated, pyramid-tipped collar by Minneapolis’ Hardt Jewelry, I still get a thrill when I dress up in grander, statement-making pieces like aunt Lu. Lately, my favorite styling trick has been to layer on some of my favorite vintage brooches and pins to the lapel of a jacket to give it a modern edge. It’s about taking something old and making it my own.
As LuAnn puts it, wearing jewelry is “different for everybody—no two women are alike.” So whether you’re a less-is-more or a more-is-more type, wearing jewelry is a way to make a statement without ever having to move your lips.