Pearls were the most popular jewelry for women, and the pear-shaped drop earring was especially popular for those with big, ringlet curled hair. Though all lengths of pearl necklaces were loved, the short choker chains were especially prized. How pearls were worn often depended on the clothing they were paired with – if sleeves were long, pearls might’ve been draped from the shoulders and fastened together with a brooch on the chest, with more pearls hanging below the brooch. But with shorter sleeves, bracelets were more popular. Pearls were also placed on hair clips and combs for women. (Nunn 74)
Pearls, with their glimmering natural beauty, were adored for their “even complexion,” and how they blended but complimented all shades of human flesh (Pointon 123). Human flesh, of both men and women. Women mostly wore pearls as necklaces, or multiple strands of bracelets on wrists (Nunn 69). But it was also very common for men to wear pearl badges, ceremonial swords, belts, buttons, rings, or cravat pins (Chadour-Sampson 88). Or, a single, drop pearl earring (Chadour-Sampson 81).
So what went well with pearls? Today we picture pearls in graduates’ senior portraits, paired with a classic black dress, or every day earrings. But in the Elizabethan era, there were some specific pairings with pearls. Pearls were often paired with bright silks, satins, in pastel shades, to compliment the unique shimmer to the jewel (Chadour-Sampson 84). They were also paired with many other shiny gemstones, like rubies and emeralds, to simplify or make jewelry pieces look more cohesive (Chadour-Sampson 84). And because of their eminent feminine qualities, bows were often attached to pearls in jewelry (Chadour-Sampson 84).
Pearls were widely popular, but not as cheap costume jewelry. Pearls represented elegance, so they were strung and designed by experts of the trade. Strung up with gold thread or silk thread, pearls were often worn as necklaces or bracelets (Chadour-Sampson 65). But, these strings wore down so they had to be redone, making pearls an even more expensive and luxurious accessory (Chadour-Sampson 65).
- Chadour-Sampson, Anna Beatriz, and Hubert Bari. 2013. Pearls.
- Nunn, Joan. Fashion in Costume, 1200-2000. 2nd ed. Chicago: New Amsterdam Books, 2000.
- Pointon, Marcia R. Brilliant Effects: A Cultural History of Gem Stones and Jewellery. New Haven [Conn.: Published for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art by Yale University Press, 2009.