A 1660 portrait of William Shakespeare depicts the great poet with an earring. Whether this was indeed part of his daily attire is not certain. The artist may have had a sense of humor. However, it is true that, at the time, an earring was emblematic of poetry.
Ear piercing is as ancient as the world; the human world that is. And it is not limited to women. Archaeologists have found evidence of this among ancient Persian men and it is true of other cultures as well. Ancient cave paintings and frescoes also depict men wearing earrings. Interestingly, in many instances these appear to have been worn on one ear only. This may be significant, or a mere indication that our quasi-obsession with symmetry has emerged in more recent times.
Since today is Talk Like a Pirate Day, it is also fitting to consider the popular image of the pirate’s ear jewel. This is not a fantasized image developed by the movie industry. Sailors, including pirates, wore a a gold earring for good reason. Not only did this symbolize the sailor’s journeys around the world, but most importantly it was worn as payment for proper burial should the man lose his life at sea. At least it was hopped that the person who found the poor soul would procure burial, in addition to taking the earring.
Earrings became an object of male fashion at the time of the English Renaissance, in the late 1500’s. “Some lusty courtiers and gentlemen of courage do wear either rings of gold, stones or pearls in their ears,” reports a document dated 1577 and produced by clergyman William Harrison.
The Hippie movement of the 1960’s reignited men’s interest in earrings. This evolved into a trend with pop rock performers and fans seeking to emulate them. Remember that television made its way into homes in the mid-fifties and certainly had an impact in propagating the trend, but it was not until at least 30 years later that it truly became fashionable for men to wear earrings. This coincides, also, with new film technology and trends that lead to the more frequent use of close-ups, giving increased attention to the face and, inevitably, the ears.
Earrings worn by men have an ever-expanding range of meanings. Carpenters, for example, may wear an earring in the left ear as an indication of mastery. The side of the head on which an earring is worn is given much significance as well. There is a common rule that states, “left is right and right is left.” You can certainly figure out the significance of this statement.
It goes without saying that any meaning we give to jewelry is personal as much as cultural, and cultural meaning probably always evolves from a personal belief in the first place. It would seem a bit simpler to consider that the left side is also the heart side. Like the wedding band, the earring marks something that is dear to the heart, or to a person’s true spirit.
While we’re on the subject… Visit our Pirate’s Page!