Brooches are one of the best ways to showcase a jeweler’s art. They provide a canvas for the jeweler to paint with diamonds and gemstones without being confined to fitting a finger, neck or wrist.
The windows of Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City were filled with the newest fashions and one of the vignette’s featured a red coat by Oscar de la Renta held together by an oversized, jeweled feather brooch. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was known for her brooches, carefully choosing which she wore to send a message to those she was meeting. Albright even collected brooches and wrote a book on the topic, “Read My Pins”. And who could ever forget the glamour of former First Lady Jackie Kennedy when she wore the sunburst brooch in her hair at a state event. Brooches are easier to wear than most people think. Brooches are one of my favorite ways to add some sparkle to my wardrobe, especially as we move into cold-weather days.
It will come as no surprise that the origin of the brooch was functional rather than decorative. Long before the invention of buttons, snaps and zippers, brooches were used to hold clothing in place. The first brooches were made of thorns, flint and even bone. The Romans were some of the first to use these brooches. The earliest known documentation of metal brooches dates back to the Bronze Age, which began in about 2300 BC in Britain, and about 3000 BC in China. The Vikings and Celts — both men and women — used brooches to fasten winter cloaks. These early brooches were made of plain metal and were often designed as a circle on top of a long straight pin.
Gradually, gemstones and precious metals were added to the designs of brooches, as royalty, nobility and the elite of society wanted something more decorative to show off their status. By the Victorian era (1837 – 1901), brooches were the jewels of choice and there were many styles available. Particularly popular were cameos and micromosaics, often souvenirs brought home from Grand Tours of Europe, which symbolized the sophisticated traveler of the time.
At the turn of the twentieth century, brooches were intricate works of diamonds and platinum and by the 1920s, two new spins on the brooch, the jabot and dress clips, became available. The Jabot, is a stickpin with a decorative top held in place at the bottom by another decorative piece. Dress clips could be worn as one piece or taken apart to create two smaller matching brooches that could be worn on dress straps, on shoes or even to adorn a handbag.
There are many ways to wear a brooch, just let your imagination guide you. Here are a few ways I like to wear my brooches.
One of my favorite ways to wear a brooch is on my hat. A brooch takes it from ordinary to extraordinary in a flash. To get this look, put on your hat and then decide where you want the brooch to sit. Then play with it until it looks just right.
Another fun way to wear a brooch is on the collar or shoulder of a winter coat. It really brightens up those dreary winter days and it’s a great conversation piece. During the winter, I wear a marcasite flamingo brooch that was a birthday gift on the collar of my coat.
Taking a cue from our Viking friends, I sometimes will wear a brooch to close an open sweater that has no buttons or zipper. Experiment with different placement of the brooch. You can wear it up high toward the neck, or at the waist. The placement of the brooch will give a different look to the sweater. If you have a cape or large shawl a brooch is an elegant closure. Instead of buttoning a cardigan sweater, you can also wear a brooch at the collar to close it.
I love wearing a brooch on my turtleneck; it’s a sophisticated, yet cool and modern way to wear a small brooch. To showcase the brooch, pin it on the turtleneck collar at your throat. A variation on this look is to wear a brooch at the throat of a shirt that is buttoned up.
Sometimes when I’m heading to the theater or a special night out, I add a brooch to a simple fabric handbag to amp up the glam factor. Place the brooch a couple of inches or so below the clasp on the bag for a little extra sparkle.
Pockets on a shirt just kind of sit there. To give them some panache, I like to add a horizontal brooch to the top of the pocket.
Keep in mind that when you wear a brooch, placement is key. It may take a few tries to find exactly the right spot for the brooch. Give yourself some time to play with it until you are satisfied with how the brooch looks. Once you’ve got the brooch placed correctly, the result is instant chic.
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