Sometime during my late teens, discount I became addicted to the music channels included in my Mother’s Sky TV subscription. From hours spent watching VH1 Behind the Scenes specials to losing many minutes engrossed in the latest visual offering from TLC, sick Aaliyah and Jennifer Lopez, music began to influence, as it does for many, my aesthetic. As much as my pocket money was increasingly spent on Tammy Girl clothes and compilation CDs, I started to pump up my look with big, gold, ‘doorknocker’ hoop earrings. Encouraged by my friends at my South London, all girls’ school, these hoops have forever since been included in my sartorial repertoire.
Every woman has that one thing that makes them feel attractive when the wardrobe feels barren and the selfie camera is being shady. Big hoop earrings, a slip of the round stuff through the age-old hole in my lobe has always provided me with the finishing touch I need. This accessory choice came to me long before the term cultural appropriation jumped from academia to a much needed conversational touch point. Hoops, for me, were a simple choice, born from my utter veneration of some classmates who were just effortlessly and endlessly cooler than me, and mostly black musicians who adopted lyrics and grooves that pierced my soul. And today, my hoops earring are still worn almost daily as an act of cultural appreciation for these women – and the vibe that they embody.
Although Sumerian women and men wore earrings over 4,500 years ago, it was another 1000 years before hoops became the style du jour for the rich Egyptians, the diaphanous Greeks and the wealthy Roman – even history loves a hoop! Documented as one of the earliest jewellery trends, hoop earrings were worn in the 1780s and 1790s when traditional Greek ‘vintage’ trends were incorporated into the swim of fashion. Back then the idea was to look like a version of a traditional Greek emperor, with hair worn short and springy – the perfect style to show off some suitably large hoop earrings. Since the 18th century, costume (or junk) jewellery has been conceived as a creative commodity that satisfies a basic need for self-adornment.
Ancient Egyptian depiction of dancer wearing hoop earrings
Fast forward to the 1980s when Queens, New York rap trio Salt-n-Pepper entered the arena wearing acid wash jeans, asymmetrical haircuts, big gold chains and of course ‘doorknocker’ hoop earrings. The first female rappers such as Sha-Rock, Roxanne Shante and MC Lyte wanted to look fierce and capable in the male-dominated rap world, but they celebrated being female but adding bling to their look. After selling more than 8 million albums and becoming one of the greatest female raps groups of all time, Salt-n-Pepper’s distinct ‘street’ look was borrowed and taken to a Chanel catwalk show in September 1991, for an event that helped raised money for disadvantaged New York teens.
Hoop earrings continued to earn a rebellious reputation and are still often seen as an ornament for the streetwise. Rapper LL Cool J even gave them a shout out on his 1990 track Around the Way Girl, “I need a girl with extensions in her hair, bamboo earrings, at least two pair.” A quick Reddit search unearths a thread of earring hunters, debating whether a pair of hoops comes with a halo-like quality…or quite the opposite. It seems that an oversized hoop that brushes past the upper jawline will always be synonymous with street culture. Someone called me a ‘little bit roadman’ when I was wearing my hoops the other week, and I lapped that depiction up with alacrity. Because who wouldn’t want to be a little bit road(wo)man? Who doesn’t revel in something that encourages their sassy side? Fashion jewelry, which is wittily expressive of its age is something of an art form, and it’s undeniable that the hoop earring has become ageless in its appeal.
Sassy isn’t a hoop’s only calling card though – I can distinctly remember reading a just-out-of-destiny’s-child-Beyonce interview in Cosmopolitan magazine where she spoke about an insecurity she has of having big ears. She told an anecdote of how she overcame this personal dissatisfaction by distracting the attention from her (perceived sticky-outy) ears with a big old hoopy hoop. This was probably the first moment I felt a true affinity to Queen B. I had once been told by a surgeon “I can pin those back for you if you want?” while he poked the top of my 13-year-old ears. I was actually in the hospital for a grumbling appendix that never did burst. Perhaps he felt he needed to leave me with a lifelong scar of sorts.
So hoops to me aren’t trashy, they’re emboldening, simple and flattering. When I wear my hoops of various size it’s like I am paying homage to everyone that has worn them before me; I can only hope to be a walking embodiment of womanhood and femininity. My hoops are worn proudly to exemplify my milestones and accomplishments, and in my opinion, they’re the perfect accessory to both your business bitch trouser suit and your frayed jean shirt combo – and they’re anything but basic.
Written by Sophie O’Kelly
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