Clutch your pearls, dear reader. Those luminescent gems often associated with the prim and the proper are back in vogue again. First, it was Mom Jeans. Then, Dad Sneakers. Now, Grandmother’s Pearls. Our correspondent Julie Chang Murphy breaks down the style hacks, and shows us how to wear pearls right now for a look that’s chic and fresh.
Are Pearls passé?
Pearls have a formidable history as a status symbol. Unlike gemstones that are mined from the earth, a pearl is the only jewel created by a living organism. But are pearls out of style today? How to wear pearl jewelry in a way that feels fresh?
natural pearls are nearly extinct
A natural pearl is incredibly rare and collecting them was risky business. It was a dangerous pursuit that carried limited chance of success. A ton of oysters might yield only three or four quality pearls. According to our friends at Sotheby’s, “As time wears on, the sources for natural pearls are nearly depleted; 90 percent of the genuine natural saltwater pearls on the market today were harvested more than 90 years ago.”
pearls as a power move
Cleopatra was said to have impressed Marc Antony with her power and wealth by crushing a pearl from a pair of earrings, dissolving it in a cocktail of vinegar and gulping it down. Mic drop, Ancient Egyptian style.
the preferred choice of lady-like icons for centuries
Dutch Golden Age painter Johannes Vermeer immortalized a certain grace and refinement in his famous oil portrait Girl with a Pearl Earring, dated c. 1665.
Last year, at a Sotheby’s auction in Geneva, a pearl and diamond pendant that once belonged to Marie Antoinette, fetched $36 million which smashed pre-sale estimates that had valued it between $1-$2 million. Pearls are also synonymous with 20th century icons and royalty like Jackie Kennedy, Coco Chanel, Elizabeth Taylor and Princess Diana. Pretty good company to keep, n’est ce pas? But there’s still that nagging question: seriously, are pearls passé?
the rise of cultured pearls
Nowadays, most pearl jewelry is made from cultured pearls. Kokichi Mikimoto, the son of a Japanese noodle maker, created the world’s first cultured pearl in 1893 by manually introducing an irritant into an oyster to stimulate it to form a pearl. His eponymous house is still known as one of the premier luxury brands for pearl jewelry.
Other old-school iconic brands for pearl necklaces and the like? Tiffany & Co, Van Cleef & Arpels and Buccelatti. You’ll find them all in a row in major cities – like in Manhattan on Fifth Avenue. And their helpful sales associates will be happy to tutor you on how to wear pearl jewelry like a socialite or the ruler of a nation.
But should a modern woman of any age invest in pearl jewelry right now? Sure, it’s fine for the Duchess of Cambridge. And for brides, wedding parties, debutante balls and other exceedingly formal occasions. But what about the rest of us in our everyday lives? Are pearls out of style?
are pearls back in style again?
If you love pearls, good news is in store. For spring-summer 2019, fashion brands including Prabal Gurung, Miu Miu, Adeam, Oscar de la Renta and of course, Chanel, gave pearls a high-fashion seal of approval on the runways.
For those who are asking if pearls are passé, that’s a sure sign that the tides have turned. And if you’re ready to embrace the wave, here are some ideas to style this old-fashioned bijoux in a new way. Whether your style skews towards minimalist, maximalist, eclectic, traditional or somewhere in between, this spring is a great time to flash those pearly whites.
How to Wear Pearls Right Now and Look Chic and Fresh
A single strand of pearls with pearl stud earrings looks studied and polished. That’s a timeless look if you work at a corporate office or if you’re going to the country club. But if you want to look effortlessly chic and more casual, don’t dismiss the power of pearls to achieve that look, too.
1. Try sculptural and geometric-inspired styles
An architectural silhouette lends a subtle and sophisticated edge to any pared down ensemble.
Mizuki’s 14k gold pearl earrings with freshwater pearls look look like they’re floating in air ($1,695). We love the minimalist vibe of British designer, Roksanda’s asymmetrical square hoops ($655). We’ve been fans of Brooklyn’s Mociun for ages. Their jewelry always strikes the perfect balance of looking vintage and modern at the same time. These coin shaped pearl earrings set in gold and rose gold are inspired by mechanical elegance of Oskar Schlemmer’s Triadissches Ballet ($3,400).
2. Look for pieces that use Baroque pearls
These perfectly imperfect specimens have an organic shape that make each piece look less preppy and conservative than traditional pearls. That makes them ideal to invoke a carefree Bohemian summer vibe.
Samira 13’s lustrous Baroque pearl sparkles with a galaxy motif of scattered white diamonds that rest in hand-carved starburst-like settings ($5,760). Lizzie Fortunato’s statement pieces always look they have a story behind them. We love these black pearl earrings paired with gold and onyx ($265). This piece by Maison Irem combines two trends in one- pearls and medallions- to create a timeless and global inspired necklace ($245).
3. Choose one statement piece and you’re good to go
A straightforward and low-maintenance way to achieve an impactful look with pearls is to be one and done. Are pearls out of style? Certainly not when worn in moderation, right?
Lele Sadoughi’s giant baubles will leave your wrists looking incredibly dainty. Made from acrylic pearls bezel set into a 14K-plated bangle ($285). This frothy concoction of pearls, shells and glass from Nocturne will have you looking like a modern day Botticelli ($260). We love Evil Eye jewelry and this set from Brooklyn based Beck is hand-painted on freshwater pearls ($295).
Take a “More is More” Approach to Pearls
If you really want to know how to wear pearls, go straight to the master. Coco Chanel once said, “A woman needs ropes and ropes of pearls.” Or maybe it was Madonna? Or another inimitable chanteuse, Rihanna. As evidenced by these fierce women of fashion and rock royalty, you can’t overdo it. If you’re unsure, just add one more.
1. Layer faux pearls with heirloom pieces
Drawing inspiration from their iconic looks, we love layering in some faux pearls (we won’t tell anyone if you don’t) with heirloom pieces you might already own. That’s one way to ensure that your pearls look far from passé.
Mikimoto’s divine pearl scarf is totally aspirational. Price available upon request…unsurprisingly. This Chanel necklace is the piece you need to build upon. An instant classic ($2,200). For credible Jackie O vibes, this JCrew multi-strand faux-pearl necklace is subtly twisted for a glamorous look ($98).
2. Double up on earrings and bracelets
You don’t need to confine the layering and stacking to your neckline, however. Double it up at your other focal points for double the fun, and you’ll never have to ask yourself if pearls are out of style.
Beck’s hoops are made from Swarovski crystal pearls on a 24k vermeil frame ($295). The twin sisters behind Avec New York are the queens of open rings. Can rings be sexy? We think these certainly are ($278). Take a cue from Lele Sadoughi’s inspired styling and combine pearl barrettes adjacent to linear pearl earrings ($98 and $225, respectively).
Embellished Pearls Everywhere
Since pearls are a girl’s best friend this season, designers are using them to embellish garments, handbags, shoes, and hair accessories. Why should your ears and neck have all the fun? Of course pearls have been used on garments and accessories before but they’re usually associated with bridal and evening looks. But on hiking boots? And on sunglasses? Never say never.
1. Embellished apparel
As busy women, we can certainly get behind pearls being sewn directly on to our clothes, eliminating the need for coordinating jewelry in the mornings.
MONSE’s off the shoulder, deconstructed sweater gets a dose of ladylike decorum with faux pearls down the side ($1,390). These 7 For All Mankind jeans combine pearl beaded trim with an unfinished hem for a sweet yet tough look ($249). Simone Rocha’s feminine approach to fashion is encapsulated in this graphic tee with pearl trim, ruffled shoulders and lace hem ($440).
2. Pearls on shoes
Yes, we hear what you’re thinking: seriously? Pearls on our footwear? That might work if you’re walking down the aisle on delicately strewn flowers, but on the city streets? We think it not only works, it instantly pulls your look into a more sophisticated realm.
Tory Burch’s wearable chunky sandal would look amazing with the white, black or denim shirt dress we all have in our closet ($199). These mules from Nicholas Kirkwood has a sculptural quality that will give you instant art world insider credibility ($795). Toughen up those sweet summer sundresses and rompers with these chunky hiking boots from Gucci ($1,190).
3. Black with pearl trim is the new black.
Want to know how to wear pearls? You can never go wrong with a bit of pearl trim on black. It’s a classic pairing that instantly turns something ordinary and basic into something more evocative of the good (and fun) life.
Yep, I’m buying these fabulous FENDI sunglasses even though I’ll probably end up sitting on them at some point ($525). This nostalgic and playful shoulder bag is classic Miu Miu ($2,050). All the black dresses in your closet are calling out for this Alice McCall belt ($190).
4. Pearl-embellished hair accessories
Who can forget Princess Diana’s and now Duchess Kate’s Lover’s Knot pearl tiara? For the rest of us, these pearl-embellished hair accessories can be our crowning glories.
It’s a mini halo of pearls from Lelet, sized perfectly to secure those loose ponytails ($128). Jennifer Behr’s celestial inspired bobby pins will make you the star for the night. This floppy bow scrunchie with embroidered faux pearls is casual and elegant ($45).
So to answer the question: are pearls out of style? Nope, not even a little bit. Now we all know how to wear pearl jewelry in a way that’s chic and fresh. Who runs the world? Girls with pearls! Grandmothers everywhere will be so proud.
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Crediting her training as a cultural anthropologist at Wellesley College, Julie has immersed herself in various industries in the last 15 years including fashion design, event planning, fitness and even investigating police misconduct. Julie lives in NYC where she loves trying every ramen and dumpling restaurant with her husband and three children. She finds joy in bold prints, biographies of fierce women, kickboxing and spending way too long finding the perfect polish color to express her mood.
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