Earrings through the Ages – the History of Earrings

Earrings through the Ages – the History of Earrings

We adore a statement earring (or even better, two) and have recently been looking into the long and interesting history of earrings. So, lovely readers, may we present the Glam Confidential brief history of ear adornment through the ages! We begin at the beginning… an astonishing 5,000 years ago.

Women wearing square shaped earrings illustrating the history of earrings

(Image source)

3000 years BC

In the 90s, a mummy was discovered in Austria, that was carbondated to 5,000 years ago. He had pierced ears, well, actually, stretched ears with holes measuring 7-11mm. While similarly high-guage ear modifications can also be seen in modern-day skater kids, back in pre-historic Europe, the theory is that earrings kept out evil spirits, who could enter through any hole in the body and metals could repel them. Purely speculation of course, they might have just liked the decoration!

Ancient cultures

In Ancient Rome, Greece and Persia as well as Egypt, from as far back as the 8th Century BC, certain people wore earrings. Very often, it was wealthy ladies who wore finely crafted gold and precious gems to signify their lofty status. But in Rome, slaves wore earrings and in Greece, prostitutes.

Lots of mummy portraits from the 1st Century onwards depict only women with jewellery. And their earrings are always hoops or drops.

mummy portrait from the 1st Century depicting women with jewellery

Even though the technology existed to make tiny stud earrings, evident from the fine goldwork from the time, it seems well-to-do ladies favoured larger and longer earrings, to elongate the neck and make it appear more graceful… as well as displaying wealth

Pirate chic

Fast forward through the Medieval period, when the Church banned earrings (presumably for being too frivolous) to a period with a little more glamour. Sailors and pirates have been immortalised as earring-wearers, though we can’t claim it was for vanity (though who knows, really). Legend has it that seamen wore silver, gold and pearl earrings to pay for their burial if they died at sea.

There were also superstitious reasons, such as prevention from drowning, or better eyesight. Here’s Sir Walter Raleigh looking dapper with a beautiful drop-shaped pearl duo earring!

Sir Walter Raleigh with a drop-shaped pearl duo earring

Other cultures

Throughout history and across the world, statement earrings have been worn by tribespeople from Africa to Asia, a dramatic and striking look that’s of course made its way into the fashion sphere.

Women wearing large round shaped earring

(Image source)


(Image source)

It’s unlikely that many of us can recreate this awesome, exotic look… but oversized gold earrings will at least help!

Wearing statement earrings

Without resorting to cultural appropriation, wearing dramatic earrings is an easy way to dress up a simple outfit. Go for a plain and understated neckline, to draw as much attention as possible upwards, giving the illusion of a longer neck. As you can clearly see, voluminous earrings are something that’s never gone out of style.

voluminous earrings wearing woman

voluminous earrings wearing woman closeup

(Image source)

And finally…

You could always go for classical history and modern fashion in one fell swoop of course. Oh Dolce and Gabbana, we can always count on you!


Do you go for a huge earring, or keep it simple with studs? What’s your history of earrings like?

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