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Earring Styles of the Roaring 40s

Even if you didn't live in the decade you might look back on the 1940s as an era of glamour, with strong capable women working in traditionally male roles, and movie sirens providing the romance. It was an era of war, austerity and hope, and that was reflected in the fashions. Many women worked in the Land Army or in Munitions Factories where overalls, boots, and men's shirts were de rigueur, and the only touch of femininity permitted was a touch of lippy and a dainty pair of fashionable earrings. Let's take a look at how the earring styles of the roaring 40s reflected the times.

Staying Beautiful for the war effort.

For the first half of the decade much of the world was at war, and the later years were a time of rationing and rebuilding. A lot of the men were away fighting, blackout restrictions in many areas meant the nightlife – and the opportunity to get glammed up – was at a minimum (and money was too scarce for partying anyway!) but that didn't mean that women had to do away with all nice things.

Jewellery in the 1940s became cheap and cheerful. Because so much metal was going to the war effort, new 'plastics' were created that could be moulded and brightly coloured, and jewellery stores were awash with mass-produced colourful rhinestone sparkle. These bright gems were a morale boost to hard-working women, and a gesture of defiance to whomever they were at war with.

In Hollywood, directors and producers were doing their bit too. Costumers were dressing their glamorous actresses in recycled and repurposed art deco pieces, and calling on the amazing talents of costume jewellery maker, Eugene Joseff of Hollywood. Joseff created a huge collection of costume jewellery that he hired out to movie studios, and when actresses began to request copies for themselves, he launched a sideline selling replica pieces in high street stores to bring affordable Hollywood glamour to the public.

Image shows Ginger Rogers wearing Joseff of Hollywood costume jewellery in the 1946 movie Magnificent Doll.

Jewellery designers, by necessity, became quite creative with the materials used. It's hard to get hold of quality gems, pearls, and precious metals when the world is at war, so designers turned to fabrics, leather, wood, shells, glass and plastics. Precious metals were more often used in plating rather than whole pieces being solid gold, and rhodium for jewellery use was out – it was all required for the war effort. Bakelite was a cheap plastic available in many colours popular at the time, but if you're looking at vintage pieces of 1940s costume jewellery, it's worth noting that Bakelite doesn't actually hold its colour very well over time. Blues will have turned black, and whites yellow, and many of the vibrant pieces will have lost their colour.

Visit our Pinterest board to see some great 1940s fashion earrings!

1940s costume jewellery inspired by Hollywood would be big, bold and glamorous. The austere times of the decade meant that many people turned to Hollywood for nostalgia, reminiscing of bygone times of romance and plenty, and in replicating the styles seen on actresses like Joan Fontaine, Rita Hayworth and Lauren Bacall, they chose flashy necklaces and oversized earrings that had the look of expensive diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds.

Hedy Lamarr in Let's Live A Little, 1948

Hairstyles in the 1940s were very feminine. Big curls – Victory Rolls – were created with rollers and the hair was shoulder length, pinned up at the sides to reveal the ears. For everyday wear and to accessorise smart fashions, earrings were generally large fancy 'buttons', often paired with a matching brooch or hat pin and styled into bold novelty shapes. Most earrings were, of course, clip-on or screw back, though some styles for pierced ears were available. Jewellery from the 1940s is now highly collectible, particularly those signed by designers.

Image shows Hedy Lamarr in the 1948 film Let's Live A Little. In high street department and jewellery stores, the big names in ladies fashion jewellery were Coro (and their more upmarket Corocraft range), Trifari, Monet, and Eisenberg, among the ever-enduring Tiffany & Co. and Coco Chanel. If you like vintage adverts, take a look at our 1940s Jewellery Adverts Pinterest board.

Do you have any 1940s vintage earrings? Tell us about them below! If you're looking for 1940s vintage clip-on earrings, take a look at our True Vintage product page – you never know what you might find there!


Next week: "September's Birthstones – Sapphire and Moonstone". If you celebrate your birthday in September you can learn about your birthstones in our blog!


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