Fashion history: why do we wear jewelry?

  • Sol Rivero

Have you ever wondered why we decorate ourselves with necklaces, bracelets, rings and all types of ornaments? While clothes fulfill some of our basic needs by keeping us warm and cozy, accessories don’t seem to cover the same necessities. However, it might have more importance than you think!

Today we take a basic look at our fashion history and answer the question: why do we wear jewelry?


Why do we wear jewelry? The origins of accessories

Some of the oldest accessories found by scientists consist in jewelry made with beads, shells, bones of animals, leather, feathers, stones…and other natural materials which were easy to find and manipulate. The experts consider that this kind of colorful and basic jewelry responded to a form of imitation of the behavior shown by other animals: birds, for example, mate by showing off their colorful feathers and their unique designs.

It’s believed the first humans must have learned from them to decorate themselves to attract potential companions, and thus they experimented with different elements, hues and designs. The discovery of metal helped creating more complex designs: large collars, bracelets and rings began emerging in these first societies, becoming exceedingly popular.  


It’s also possible that jewelry and accessories were means used for identification, protection, and also a way of showing the person’s rank amongst the members of the community. This gave jewelry a social importance which derived from the increasingly complex development of societies: now jewelry was more than a way of attracting a partner, it was a sign of social and economic status.

From the Medieval Ages to the 18th century, jewelry became a symbol of elegance and power amongst the rich. The number and size of necklaces, rings and bracelets shown by a person, let others know their place in the community. Precious stones and metals were reserved for the richest, and jewelry with religious symbols became increasingly popular amongst Christians during this period.


Jewelry also became an investment and a currency during this period, and it was used by religious and political leaders as a way of showing their favoritism for certain individuals, or even to represent a particular position inside the hierarchy.

From the 17th and 18th century and beyond, jewelry also took other connotations. Certain materials, such as crystals and precious stones, were believed to be link with special healing or mystical powers, and the idea of birthstones linked to a particular month, or gemstones which could cure diseases, became extremely popular amongst people.


Why do we wear jewelry today?

As we’ve seen, the history of jewelry shows how it evolved from a simple accessory for mating rituals to important socioeconomic connotations. However, nowadays jewelry is much more accessible to all social classes, and although some materials continue to be coveted due to their rarity and luxuriousness, today it’s possible to find beautiful and acquirable accessories for a more reasonable price.

So, why do we wear jewelry today?

Well, the main reason derives from jewelry as a mean of expression. Although fashion tends to standardize certain ways of dressing and looking, jewelry and accessories are perfect for stylizing an outfit according to your personality and preferences: from a deep liking of a certain color or shape, to religious beliefs, hobbies and interests…jewelry is a great way of showing the world who you are without having to speak a word.


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Lushaejewelry. The history of jewelry. The History of Jewelry: Why do we wear jewelry?
Star jewels. Why do we wear jewellery? Why do we wear jewelry? A psycho-anthropological perspective.
Victoria and Albert Museum. A history of jewellery.