Hoop Earrings Through the Ages (And Why They’re Still Popular)

Girl wearing hoop earrings

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Hoop earrings are a staple in every woman’s jewelry collection. They come in various sizes and are versatile enough to go with any outfit, even formal wear. They’ve been around for as long as jewelry has but when and where did they actually originate?

If you’re interested in learning about the origin of these classic pieces of jewelry, we’ve got all the information you need. Let’s take a closer look at the rich history of hoop earrings, starting with their origin.

Origin of Hoop Earrings

Nubian hoop earrings

Queen of Nubia silver hoop earrings by Global Adornments. See them here.

Although it’s not possible to pinpoint accurately where hoop earrings originated, they have been around for as long as humans have. The origin of the first known hoop earrings is in Nubia, which is present-day Sudan, around 2500 BC. By 1000 BC, hoop earrings had spread to other civilizations, including Roman, Greek and Asian civilizations as well as to Ancient Sumeria (now known as Iraq).  

Hoop Earrings in Ancient Egypt

Scarab hoop earrings

Gold scarab hoop earrings by Intuitive Adornment. See them here.

By the 16th century, hoop earrings were extremely popular in Egypt and were worn by almost all the women. The earrings were primarily made from gold, beads, leather and other simple metals such as brass and copper. 

Both women and men wore these earrings as well as royalty (Cleopatra and Nefertiti, for example). The nobles also wore hoop earrings, but theirs were made of gold. Slaves and civilians wore hoop earrings made from leather and simple metals.

In Egypt, gold hoop earrings symbolized affluence, warmth and light from the sun. They also stood for provision from the gods. Higher-ranking religious leaders also sported gold hoop earrings, which were believed to keep evil spiritual forces at bay. 

Hoop Earrings in Ancient Greece

Greek hoop earrings

Textured Greek key hoop earrings by Bayam Jewelry. See them here.

Hoop earrings gained popularity in Greek society around the 5th century BC.The Greeks were known to use gold and valuable gemstones for their jewelry and were among the first designers of the diamond hoop earrings. 

The Greeks rarely wore plain hoop earrings and being a mystic culture, symbolism was a large part of their lives. They made their earrings withsophisticated designs involving the shapes of different animals and gods with various symbolisms.

The Greeks revered their gods, for example  Zeus, Poseidon and Hera so highly that some of their earrings had dainty pendants made in the shape of these gods. Sometimes, these pendants were in the form of figurines with simple carvings such as flowers and pyramids. 

Hoop Earrings in Ancient Rome

Ancient roman hoops

Ancient Roman style penannular hoops by Elegantly Eccentric VA. See them here.

Ancient Roman jewelry bears a heavy resemblance to the jewelry of the Greeks. This is because there was a lot of interaction between the Romans and Greeks back then. There was a lot of trade, communication and travel between these two empires and this presented an ideal platform for interaction and cultural exchange. 

Interestingly, the Greek artisans made most Roman earrings, which could be an explanation for why their earrings were similar in design. Some hoop earrings that were found in Rome were made according to Egyptian designs. An example of the similarities between Egyptians and Romans is that both cultures used a snake symbol on their hoop earrings and the snake symbolized eternity in Roman culture. 

The Romans also had some extraordinary and unique designs for their hoop earrings. Similar to Greeks, they wore pendants on their earrings, some of which had fruit-like designs on them.

Hoop Earrings in the Ancient Middle East

Middle eastern style hoop earrings

Middle Eastern style vintage hoop earrings by In Vintage Heaven. See them here.

As hoop earrings gained popularity, they found their way to the Middle East. There is also proof that this style of earrings was present in India and China in 4250BC. 

If you look at the Indian Buddha and gods, you will note that they all wore hoop earrings, especially since the primary purpose of these earrings was to keep off evil spirits. In China, women wore hoop earrings made from jade. 

Hoop Earrings in Medieval Europe   

Nordic hoop earrings

Celtic hoop earrings by Nordic Forces. See them here.

In Medieval Europe, individuals from higher social ranks wore hoop earrings made from precious metals like gold and silver which were reserved for the rich. The earrings were embellished with gemstones such as corals, rare pearls and amber. Those in the lower social classes could only afford cheaper metals such as copper and brass.

During the middle ages, the start of the crusade in Europe facilitated the sharing of art and technology across the continent. Many metals were imported, together with precious stones such as rubies and emeralds. The designs of hoop earrings were improved and most pieces now had these precious gemstones on them. 

During this time, it was more common for men to wear hoop earrings than women. This was because Medieval European women preferred other accessories such as wide hats and large wigs to earrings. They also wore high-collared dresses that made wearing hoop earrings quite uncomfortable.

As lower necklines and less extravagant hairdos became more popular, hoop earrings regained their popularity among European women around the 16th century. 

Hoop Earrings Today

Through the ages, hoop earrings have maintained their signature round shape. The olden cultures were limited in technology and only made simple designs from common metals.

However, today these earrings have designs that are more intricate with diverse sizes, materials and styles. They can be modest and minimalistic or embellished with precious stones and are worn by both men and women.  

Meaning of Hoop Earrings

As with every other piece of jewelry, hoop earrings have varied meanings attached to them and these meanings differ from one culture to another. In most cultures, the circular shape of hoop earrings symbolizes infinity and unity. It’s said that a woman who wears hoop earrings is empowered as she exudes strength and confidence.

Hoop earrings, and variations of it like door knockers (bamboo hoop earrings) were originally worn by women of colored communities. They were seen as ‘ghetto’ and ‘too loud and gaudy’. However, later on, these accessories became mainstream, and have even been sported on the red carpet and fashion runways. 

However, for colored women, hoop earrings still remain a form of identity. For example, in the Latino culture, hoop earrings are a symbol of identity and resistance to discrimination. Most Latino mothers and grandmothers give their daughters hoop earrings as gifts to remind them of their identity. 

Benefits of Wearing Hoop Earrings

Unlike most other types of earrings, hoop earrings can draw attention to your face and accentuate your striking facial features. They’re also very stylish and can be worn with any outfit. Large hoops go well with informal outfits and are ideal for parties, outings and other casual functions. On the other hand, smaller hoops match with formal outfits and are suitable for official functions such as a job interview.  

Wrapping Up

Hoop earrings continue to be extremely popular and are still worn by many people throughout the world. They continue to evolve as a symbol of strength as well as a fashion accessory. Also called the ‘mother of all earrings’ due to their versatility, they have never (and most likely will never) go out of fashion.