Last week I found myself saying a wistful farewell to my white flip-flops and favorite linen skirts. I am surprisingly conventional when it comes to obeying these seasonal fashion “rules,” and I wondered if there were any that appied to wearing jewelry? A little research opened a big old can of worms.

In 1951, George Henschel’s The Well-Dressed Woman included these edicts for wearing jewelry:

• Do not over-bedeck yourself when wearing ordinary, country, or casual clothes.

• Both costume jewelry and real jewelry can be lovely, but should not be worn together.

• It is always more effective to wear one good or striking piece of jewelry than to decorate oneself like a Christmas tree.

• Rings draw attention to the hands and fingers; when you ear them, hands and nails must be well groomed.

• You should never wear more than one ring on any finger except your wedding ring one.

• Long pendant or drop earrings are only for evening or very formal wear; for everyday, small clip or stud ones are best.

In 1981, John T. Molloy penned Women: Dress for Success to guide a new generation (and gender) up the corporate ladder. Here are his tips for wearing jewelry at the office:

• If you have expensive jewelry, don’t wear it on the first meeting. Sneak up to people with it. Otherwise it will have the effect of artillery.

• A ring should not be a big bulge but should lie flat against the hand.

• Anything that clangs, bangs, or jangles should be avoided.

• Instead of buying one four or five cheap pieces throughout the year, buy one good piece.

• Dangling earrings are out.

Aren’t these old-fashioned jewelry “dos” and “don’ts” just adorable? I thought so, until I searched the Internet for more. I was floored by what I found. The same old dribble is being reworded and regurgitated today!

Here’s a sampling of what’s being dished up in cyberspace:

• Never wear two or more “statement” pieces at a time because it makes you look out of place and testifies your vulgarity.

• A dramatic necklace requires modest earrings and vice versa.

• If you don’t want to look like a Christmas tree, avoid wearing more than one large ring.

• Do not wear one of everything—earrings, a bracelet, a ring, and a necklace.

• When you’re fully dressed, look in the mirror, turn away, turn back again and remove the first thing that catches your eye.

• Make sure there is no competition. One piece should stand out above the rest, with the others acting as quieter supportive players. Is your necklace a work of art? Wear the matching earrings or just put in little sparkly posts.

• Face shape and hairstyle have an influence on what to wear. For instance, massive earrings look out of place if you have a small face with fine features or short hair.

• Consider your age when choosing the stones and metals that can work best for you.

• Silver jewelry is considered to be an everyday thing, not appropriate for formal and special occasions.

• For most offices, wearing anything other than simple studs and a subtle bracelet is considered “overkill” and inappropriate.

• Abide by the no-noise jewelry rule. If it clanks or is distracting it has no place in the workplace—end of story.

• You never want people to pay more attention to your accessories than they do to you.

• Pick accessories for your outfit; don’t pick an outfit based on your accessories.

YIKES! Hold on…Really?…In this day and age? Time for me to climb back on my soapbox.

I, for one, definitely could not stick to this jewelry diet. I relish the creativity of putting pieces together. I am so happy when my wrists are loaded with an unruly orchestra of bangles; when the rings on my fingers tap, tap, tap together, when my earrings are long enough to glide back and forth over a “statement” necklace. (By the way, what necklace doesn’t make a statement?)

So, I think it’s time to retire jewelry etiquette. In my opinion, the only rule is that there are no rules. Be yourself, and wear what you love. Are you with me?

Hm…and I think I’ll reconsider wearing those beloved white flip flops!


11 Responses

    Bbbsimon says:

    I spit on jewelry “etiquettte” !!!!

    I think I could be considered a Christmas tree. I like people noticing my jewelry first, last, and being know for everything sparkly and wonderful. Bring it all on! Okay, maybe I wouldn’t wear a huge necklace, huge earrings, and a huge ring at once… AH! This is GREAT! Thanks for sharing! :)

    Catherine says:


    I break EVERY jewelry rule. I wear what I want, what makes me feel happy, what makes me laugh…and I wear as much of it as I want. ;) I love telling buyers, family, and friends that they should throw jewelry rules out the window and embrace whatever makes them feel good – - mix metals, mix values, mix styles – - have fun!

    I’m with you, Marthe! Clanking, distracting bangles definitely. Here’s to new times!

    Carol Dean Sharpe/Sand Fibers says:

    You tell ‘em, Marthe!!! :D

    MaryLou Holvenstot / time2cre8 says:

    Where’s the fun in following the rules?? I don’t really wear much jewelry, even though I have a great time making it, but I don’t want anyone dictating to me what I can wear when I choose to wear it! :-)

    Robin Goldberg says:

    My personal fashion goal is to break rules but remain in good taste. Didn’t we love it when Sharon Stone wore a Gap t-shirt to the Academy Awards? On the same note we loved it when one of our sorority sisters wore an enormous cocktail ring on the outside of her gloves.
    Today we can wear tiny mini-dresses or long gowns to the same event and still be appropriate. However: a short dress that shows a lot of leg should have a higher neckline and sleeves. A short dress worn to work should be worn with dark opaque stockings. I want people to smile when they see me; not go into shock.
    My grandmother once went on a cruise and knew that she would be a guest at the captain’s table. For every evening she would be dining on the cruise, she prepared a dress and a piece of jewelry to wear with it. I have these pieces of jewelry, carefully chosen, each corresponding to an outfit. These are all costume pieces, little more than dress-up toys for a child, but each piece has its purpose. Taken together, they tell a story about a woman — not a rich woman, but a creative and savvy woman, who knew that dressing appropriately conveyed appreciation for her surroundings and her intent to contribute to the evening’s festivities.

    [...] Jewelry Ettiquette: The 1950s, The 1980s, and (Gulp!) Today [Lark Crafts Jewelry & Beading blog] [...]

    Jonscreations says:

    I’m with you! Wear what you feel comfortable with…make your own statement!

    soapybeader says:

    Oh How Wonderfully Funny.
    I laughed and laughed!!!!!!!!!

    Frutos says:

    I’m bookmarking this page because… I like the jewelry etiquette!!! :) I want my daughters to be proper ladies ;) lol

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