Black History Through the Lens of Fashion - Hoop Earrings

Hoops. A fashion IT girl staple, a 90's icon, and the one piece of jewelry your mother warned you about...Yet the question remains, where did they come from and how did it become the closet staple it is today?

While it is tricky to pin down the exact origins of the hoop earring, historians have noted that they first appeared around Mesopotamia (2500 BC), now the Middle East, when the Sumerian women wore the first pair of gold hoop earrings like the ones we wear today. Simultaneously, the ancient African civilization of Nubia, now Sudan, were the first people in history to wear hoop earrings which were made from gold, silver, and bronze.

Nubian Meroitic Period 100–40 B.C. MFA Boston

In 1500 BC the earrings arrived in Egypt, and were a popular choice for both men and women. The ancient Egyptians made their earrings from gold twisted wire and sometimes with beading made from clay for some extra flair. They believed that these earrings enhanced their beauty. Royals being the classists that they are, wanted to find a way to differentiate themselves from their citizens, so they created heavier and thicker hoops made from gold to symbolize their wealth and power. 

Egyptian Gold Hoop Earring, c.1648-1540 B.C, Source - Metropolitan Museum of Art

Overtime, other ancient civilizations such as the Greeks and the Romans, created their own adaptations of the style. Their art shows us that while this style was mostly worn by women it was also worn by men to show their class. Men who were considered to be high class are often shown with one hoop earring. 

Sadly, while they were a popular style choice amongst the ancient civilizations, there was a dramatic decline in ear jewelry in the 1600’s. This was caused by the rise in popularity of the elaborate hairstyles and the high collared tops that covered their ears. Society during this time favored heavy weight pendant and pear-shaped jewelry. 

The rebirth of the hoop earrings was aided by the discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922, reestablishing the notion that gold hoop earrings symbolized wealth and power. In fashion women started to wear blouses with lower necklines and styling their hair short, making the earrings a popular styling choice. 

Vanity Fair Photograph of Josephine Baker, 1929, Source - Pinterest

During the rise of the Black Power and Women’s rights movements in the 1960’s and 70’s, hoop earrings quickly became a staple amongst black activists, artists, celebrities, who embraced Afro-centric styles, as well as Latinx communities. It was during this time when hoop earrings became more than jewelry, and became a symbol for strength, resistance, and unity amongst communities of color especially the black community. It is this reason they became synonymous with black culture in the 20th century.  


Angela Davis

A fun fact you might not know is that the hip hop group, Salt-N-Pepa brought the door knocker style hoops into the mainstream when they wore them in their videos and award shows, further propelling them into black and hip hop culture.

Today, you can see people of all ethnic backgrounds embracing various styles of hoop earrings. It has become a fashion girl favorite and the one piece of jewelry that we all have in our jewelry box. It's important to understand where trends really come from and to give credit to their creators. If you enjoyed reading this, comment below and keep an eye out for our next blog post on black history through the lens of fashion. 


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