In 2004, I went to an interview for my first grownup job at a publishing company, and I removed the ring I’d worn in my upper cartilage for a few years. I wanted to be taken seriously. I wanted to be seen as a business-type. This piercing seemed too edgy and alternative for the staid and mature world I wanted to enter. I got the job, and never looked back—until last year.
That’s when I started to notice women my age with multiple ear piercings stacked with delicate and minimalist rings or diamond studs. There were celebs like Rashida Jones, Charlize Theron and Emma Stone—classic and elegant red-carpet beauties—and people in my own circles, who were wearing piercings with their chic everyday styles. I went to the piercing studio, only to find that my existing cartilage hole was still open, and I’ve been wearing a simple white-gold ring in it ever since.
The trend I’ve picked up on is only going to get bigger. It’s partly a societal shift. First, piercing studios are changing, becoming less dark and heavy metal. And we’re changing, too.
“Fifteen years ago mature women would come in and ask, ‘Am I too old for this? Am I trying to hold on to my youth?’” says Mike Bilinsky, a piercing artist at Adrenaline Studios. “Now a lot of people understand that this is not an age thing. The world is more accepting of difference—freedom to be an individual is prevalent in workplaces, where they’ve realized that people who can dress the way they want are more productive. Previously piercings were seen as an out-there thing—maybe a bit aggressive—whereas now they’re a little wild, but not full crazy.”
Some people see piercings as a lower-commitment alternative to a tattoo. “It’s almost as permanent, but it’s softer and you can change the jewelry,” says Tori Dundas, owner of True Curated Designs. “My brand makes fine jewelry including custom pieces that are sturdy enough to be worn all the time—to work, to work out—and people often buy them in order to represent something specific, just like they might also get a tattoo.”
To her point, Bilinsky says the type of jewelry used is also changing. Where it used to be edgy-looking titanium and stainless-steel pieces, it’s now fine pieces with precious stones. “A big shift is the comeback of gold—yellow and rose—about five years ago,” he says. “Previously it would be people looking for the cheapest jewelry they could find, whereas now there are beautiful accessories, pieces that are works of art. That’s really opened things up.”
Adrenaline Studios has even opened up a sister studio, Sleight of Hand, which specializes in high-end jewelry with precious stones, marketed toward this exact demographic. Classic brands like Messika and even Chanel are showing multiple piercings in their campaigns. Why is jewelry for piercings getting more refined?
“I think a key thing is the movement away from fast fashion and toward sustainability—that less-is-more mantra,” Dundas says. “It means people are looking for beautiful things in unexpected places. Piercings are a way to individualize your look and create uniqueness. There’s also probably a big movement in that direction because of COVID-19, since fashion and style right now are from the neck up. Jewelry is also a wearable investment—a commodity that will appreciate over time—but why not get to enjoy it now?”
Messika founder Valérie Messika says it’s also about jewelry in general being worn differently. “This new trend has manifested itself in different ways, such as the double ring, the hand bracelet, the triple ring or the ear cuff,” she says, pointing out that her range includes ear clips that can be worn without piercing, with multiple pieces together to give you the trendy stacked ear look.
Bilinsky says his favourite look is what he calls a “curated ear,” where he and the client collaborate over what piercings to get in what locations. “Usually they might get one or two or three at the same time, and then you plan next steps,” he says. “I have had one client working on her ears for four years, and she’s now up to 17 piercings.” Not so common are stretched lobe piercings; Bilinsky says the trend is more toward minimalist pieces that are accents, not statements.
Piercings themselves are typically painful for just a second, but healing can sometimes be challenging. Sleeping on that side can cause the jewelry to shift in its angle and lead to swelling and scar tissue. To reduce the chances of that, Bilinsky suggests sleeping with a neck pillow from a plane. Healing time can vary between a minimum four weeks for a lobe piercing to several months. “The longest to heal is an industrial: two piercings with a bar that goes through the upper part of the ear from side-to-side,” he says.
What’s the next frontier for piercings? Noses are out, thanks to COVID-19 regulations, but Bilinsky says belly buttons are back. “In the ’90s it was all loud. Now it’s finer jewelry—very minimalistic and delicate rings, not barbells.” Suddenly I’m naval gazing. While I don’t quite have the abs I had when I had my midriff pierced in 1999 (two children have put paid to that) and I don’t intend to stroll around in a crop top, I’m tempted. Till I decide, I bid you seasons piercings, and a happy new ear. —Aileen Lalor