Recently, our newest employee, Kathy Jenkins, a senior at Bellmont, asked my sister Kate how to wear a brooch. It was such an intriguing question that it prompted me to discuss further. Kate and I were used to seeing our grandmothers and mother wear brooches. Today’s fabrics have much to do with why we seldom see the brooch worn daily on women as in past decades. Wools were much more popular 50 years ago when brooches could be seen on notables such as Jackie Kennedy adhering to her classic coats or suits regularly. Earlier, nylon and eventually polyesters stole the fashion textile limelight for comfort and travel as they required little pressing. Women realized putting irreverent holes from the pin stem in a lightweight polyester blend would ruin that fabric. The weight of some brooches, even mid-size styles, tend to droop on synthetic fabrics. The brooches then moved to scarves of more forgiving fibers.
I have assisted many people over the past few years who are interested in wearing an inherited vintage brooch with current fashions. Some reinforcement techniques are to back the pin stem with a piece of felt for support. I have even converted brooches to pendants without compromising the integrity of the piece adding a simple earring back for security. Modern brides have asked me assist them with multiple brooches repurposed into their bridal bouquets. They can serve as hair or veil ornaments, too. In 1971 it was suggested to me when I worked for J.B. Hudson Jewelers in Minneapolis that I wear my diamond pansy brooch on the sleeve of my knit dress so I could enjoy it more!
More fashion tips for wearing a brooch:
1. Mix old with new. Wear a vintage brooch with a structured, graphic print dress or sporty neon clutch for a look that’s polished with an added modern flair.
2. Placement is key. A brooch always works when worn, left or right, over the bust, but it can also be a surprising embellishment at the center of a buttoned up collar.
3. Blazers and brooches are friends. A fresh way to put some punch into your go-to, tailored black blazer is to add a playful brooch to the lapel to dress.
4. Dress up a boring bag. If you’ve got a plain purse you love to carry from day to night, adding a brooch to the top corner is a creative way to impress for a dressier occasion.
Watching classic movies such as Braveheart or Lord of the Rings is a great place to start understanding what purpose the brooch originally served. An ornamental piece of jewelry that can be affixed to clothing, cloaks or hats by means of a pin with or without a clasp, brooches were were first worn in a functional capacity to fasten or secure articles of clothing. They evolved from simple pins to elaborate Roman fibula and eventually to items of pure decoration. During the Middle Ages brooches transitioned from serving this practical function to their current purely decorative one. Brooches have been constructed out of every conceivable jewelry material from precious metals to plastic. Every motif, theme, fad and fashion has been construed as appropriate for brooch design. All manner of jewelry techniques have been applied from enamel, gem-setting, animation, engraving, etc. allowing brooches to become badges that make a fashion statement and sometimes a political expression. Former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright’s book, Read My Pins is a story and celebration of how one woman’s brooch collection was used to make diplomatic history.
The fashion for brooches has continued to thrive with examples in every decorative period through today.