In all their many forms, hoop earrings are often seen as a modern trend, joined by ear cuffs and huggies as the heights of fashion. However, hoops have been around for centuries, even being uncovered by archaeologists as artifacts now shown in museums worldwide.
From the earliest known civilizations to runways today, hoop earrings have a history that stands out within any study of jewelry. So, as you study a guide to hoop earrings and determine what style of hoops works best for you, it's vital to recognize the historical and cultural significance behind a pair of hoops.
Sumer (2600-2500 BCE)
While the precise origin of hoop earrings has been contested, one of the earliest known references dates back to ancient Sumer (one of the earliest known civilizations) in Mesopotamia. The Met Museum showcases a pair of hoops from this period to gold hoops in the shape of crescents found near modern-day Tell al-Muqayyar. These earrings may have passed through the earlobes, like those of today, or been worn beside the ear attached to a headdress instead.
Ancient Rome (753 BCE to 476 AD)
In ancient Rome too, hoop earrings were a popular aspect of contemporary fashion. Like the Sumerian equivalent, these were often in the Caspian Boat or crescent style, with yellow gold and various gemstones creating a bold yet often minimalistic design.
Age of Piracy (1650-1740)
Pop culture references to pirates adorned with gold hoops abound, as do the legends purporting their reasons for wearing the precious metal. Many popular stories liken pirate's hoops to a sort of insurance policy, ensuring they could pay for their burial should they die in a foreign land.
Others compare it to coins being worn as jewelry, a sort of status symbol known to be practiced by pirates. Still, others see hoop earrings as an act of rebellion against sumptuary laws of the time, with others attributing these accessories as a superstitious practice. There are even some who argue that pirates never wore this type of hoop in the first place!
Hokkaido, Japan (1800-1900s)
Both men and women of the Ainu culture in Northern Japan are thought to have worn hoop earrings during the 19th and 20th centuries, though their history is relatively mysterious. The National Museum of Scotland displays one such pair of hoops, having previously displayed the same piece in A Scottish Physician's View: Craft and Spirit of the Ainu from the N. G. Munro Collection, an exhibit at the Historical Museum of Hokkaido. Unlike many hoops found in a historical jewelry collection, these utilize silver-toned metal in the wire-wrapped hoops.
BIPOC Diaspora (1960s-Present)
Most recently, hoop earrings have been associated with BIPOC and minority cultures across the United States and beyond, offering the chance to make a strong statement without saying a word. In particular, large hoops of gold are linked to the Chola subculture, a reclaimed term used by Mexican American women to empower a unique brand of strong, fearless femininity.
Letting historical fashions guide your choice of accessories might not always be a great plan. In the case of hoop earrings, though, the precedent set through several centuries has solidified hoops in fashion history. For those—mainly white women—opting for a pair of hoops today, it's essential to acknowledge the long cultural history behind them, including the recent Chicana connection.
When choosing hoops, do so from a genuine appreciation for the traditions that have made them so much more than a trend. From large hoop earrings to elaborate modern hoops with charms, gemstones, or filigree, there's a style to suit everyone hoping to be a part of this stage of the hoop earring's history.