Black and Latinx Women Don’t Care if You Wear Hoop Earrings. But We Do Want You to Stop Calling Them Trendy.
“You wear jewelry now?”
The question stumped me as my aunt eyed the gold name chain around my neck. See, for many women in my family, jewelry is essential. My grandmother never leaves the house without her chunky hoops. My aunt is always displaying her latest bracelets (with charms given to her by her best friends). Heck, I even owned gold ear studs and a name-inscribed bracelet before I could utter my first word. Point blank, jewelry was always connected to my Latinx culture.
And yet, I grew up resenting name chains, door knocker earrings and big hoops, quite possibly because I feared they made me look too “other,” like I’d never be taken seriously in prominently non-BIPOC spaces. In 2018, New York Times writer Sandra E. Garcia explained a similar feeling: “I felt that wearing large hoops would make me stand out, make me seem too loud, too visible, too ghetto, too black.”
But despite my (and many other BIPOC women’s) inner turmoil and identity crisis, the fashion world kept telling us hoops were “cool! trendy! chic!” And sure, I guess this is fine. Until you see who exactly is rocking them and how calling them a “hot must-have item” ignores years of Black and Latinx history.
About that history: The earliest sighting of gold hoop earrings was around 1500-2500 B.C. in Africa (specifically Egypt and Sudan) and Asia (specifically Iraq) as a symbol of cultural identity, rank and protection. The style made its way to Greece and Rome in 330 B.C.E, where they became popular among both royalty and everyday women (and men), though even cats, pirates and pharaohs reportedly wore them too.
By the 16th century, earrings had started to lose their popularity, as Europeans spent more time worrying about their hairstyles and clothing. But, like with any style, they made a comeback in the 17th century in the form of pearls, clasps and diamonds.
The 1900s brought a new stigma to hoops, thanks to associations with Native American and Latinx cultures, which were viewed as "barbaric." And it wasn’t until the the '60s and '70s that they became a beacon for empowerment and activism, when Black women like Nina Simone, Donna Summer and Angela Davis rocked them in tandem with the Black Power Movement. “To say ‘Black is beautiful’ was disruptive, to say ‘Black power’ was disruptive and their look reflected that. Those beautiful afros; shiny, glowing, radiant skin; hoop earrings—was very intentional, not overdone, not complicated. It was chic,” Davis told Women's Wear Daily.
The cultural significance of gold hoops (and the emergence of door knockers/bamboo earrings) continued in the '80s and '90s, thanks to celebs like Salt N Pepa, Sade and Jennifer Lopez, as well as Mexican Americans from the Chola movement in Southern California.
Bottom line: They have always represented cultural pride and empowerment to Black and Latinx communities.
But of course, for as long as there have been hoop earrings, there have been critics who viewed the look as unprofessional, ghetto and distracting. In TV and movies, when a BIPOC woman wore hoop earrings, she was seen as exotic, comical or trashy. (Think Gloria Pritchett in Modern Family.) They were synonymous with the loud friend, the promiscuous mistress or the scary aggressor. (You can see why I was hesitant to wear them, right?)
OK, so we can all agree that it’s messed up to stigmatize traditionally Black and Latinx accessories. But what about appropriation by mainstream (and mostly white) influencers and celebrities?
Though there have long been examples of Latinx appropriation (Drew Barrymore's fetishizing hoops in the '90s or Gwen Stefani's early '00s cornrows, pencil-thin eyebrows and large hoops), it got real for me back in 2016, when Urban Outfitters began selling said hoops for $16. Then I saw name-plated large hoops listed for $45 from Marc Jacobs. $45?! These staples often sold for less than $5 in the beauty stores where I lived in New York. For some, it’s high-fashion. But for us, it’s a reminder that something is more valuable when it comes from white culture than when it comes from our own communities.
Simply put, appropriation highlights what many of women like me already know: The “It” girl persona doesn’t include BIPOC. Black and Latinx women have to constantly second guess what we wear in order to wiggle our way into spaces that already view us as inferior. But for white women? It’s fun, on-trend even.
Ugh, so we can’t even wear earrings now? I can already see my inbox crowded with this question (with a virtual eye roll to match). Short answer: Of course you can.
The bigger issue is how we present “trends” that are so rooted in Latinx and Black culture. For starters, think about the context in which you’re wearing them, and if it’s an affront to the communities who originated the look. Think Taylor Swift wearing big hoop earrings in the “Shake It Off” video with mostly Black dancers twerking in the background. Or when Illana Wexler wore ‘Latina’ earrings on Broad City though she’s not Latina herself. Next, think about the way you’re labeling these accessories. In the same sentence that you call a piece of jewelry “chic and luxe,” are you also calling it “edgy and radical?” Or, in Carrie Bradshaw’s case, do you think of gold jewelry as “ghetto fun?”
Luckily, many Black and Latinx millennial and Gen-Z trailblazers are calling out appropriation when they see it; In 2016, Latinx students at Pitzer College painted, “White girl, take off your hoops earrings!!!” and stated in an email: “The culture actually comes from a historical background of oppression and exclusion.” And others are reclaiming the earrings’ rich cultural history. In 2017, Puerto Rican artist Tanya Melendez held a photography exhibit celebrating women of color wearing hoops. Years later, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wore gold hoop earrings, a white pantsuit and a bright red lip to her congressional swearing in ceremony—another step towards taking back the negative stigma.
When talking about the power of that moment, writer Frances Solá-Santiago said it best, “For Latinas in positions of power, something as simple as wearing hoop earrings can feel like a small rebellion against the status quo. Among the corporate-gray suits and nude manicures, they announce our presence, loud and proud.”
So, when my aunt asked that question, I realized I had changed. I was no longer the girl who was ashamed of wearing jewelry. I was proud to take ownership of the traditions the women in my family have celebrated for years. And as I become more comfortable with my identity, I find that this “so-called trend" can come and go, but to me, it'll always be an essential. These days, I’m proud to wear my name on my chest and large hoop earrings in my ears (even if I’m still working up the courage to increase the size of the hoops).
It reminds me of strength, community and beauty. And there’s nothing “trendy” about that.