Silver and Screwbacks

from the Jewelry Box, part 2 of a 3 part series

As you might remember from an earlier post on 1950s jewelry, all sorts of new trends and materials were becoming popular in the postwar era. Some earlier fashion tendencies stuck around, revitalized by the surge in buying power and available range of materials. Matching jewelry―necklaces, earrings, and bracelets―became essential for any woman looking to stick to the trends.[1] As the decade went on, sets separated and one element drew to the forefront: earrings.[2]

In the early twentieth century, American attitudes regarding piercings were very culturally informed. The rising popularity of screw-back earrings that did not require actual piercing of the skin caused a lapse in the historical practice of body piercing. The trend was bolstered by an unlikely factor: immigration. In the first few decades of the 1900s, immigration to America was characterized by its major demographic: Southern and Eastern Europeans. As with previous groups of immigrants, these individuals faced severe xenophobia from other Americans. This prejudice showed up in every aspect of culture (see Flannery’s short story The Displaced Person), including fashion. Many immigrant women had pierced ears, so the practice came to be associated with the negative stigmas placed on immigrants.[3] This combination of convenience and bias resulted in the domination of the earring industry by clip-on and screw-back earrings until the 1970s.

While both types of “false” earrings were in vogue, the unique style of the 50s upset the balance. Light, delicate earrings of the 1930s and 40s were slowly replaced by large, noticeable pieces. The simple difference in weight meant that screw-backs, better suited for lighter accessories, were usurped by sturdier clip-ons, capable of supporting the gaudy, oversized fashion of the day.[4] Large imitation gemstones, complicated atomic-style earrings, and pieces conforming to the shape of the ear became as common as pearls.[5]

Of course, these trends were reflected at Andalusia. There are many earrings in the house’s collection, but there are a few pieces that stand out.

Andalusia Collection 2018.1.1039

These clip-on earrings are very indicative of an older woman in the 1950s. They are larger in size than styles of the 40s, but remain muted in color. Their bright silver finish catches the eye and complements most day and night outfits. The clip backings imply their weight, too large to be held up by a screw. Simple, atomic-inspired, and classy, these earrings perfectly encapsulate their era.

Andalusia Collection 2018.1.1042

Similar to the silver pair above, these large-yet-understated earrings transcend age. Appropriate for either of the women in the house, their easy-to-match gold color and simple shape made them equally viable for daytime as well as evening wear. The easy availability of metal to make pieces such as these demonstrates the postwar prosperity enjoyed in America.

Andalusia Collection 2018.1.1049

More understated than the others, these earrings are likely from the 1940s or inspired by the style. Their black color and sparing use of metal indicate a need for a universal color match, a piece that could be worn with most anything. The curving shape would conform to the ear of the wearer, a 40s trend that carried over to the postwar era.[6] The lighter nature of the decoration meant its screw-back attachment would reliably hold all day.

There is still more to explore in the O’Connor jewelry box! Another vestige of 1950s fashion, eye-catching brooches, will be explored next time.

[1] Viola et al., “1950s Jewelry Styles and History,” Vintage Dancer, accessed June 15, 2020,

[2] Susan Ward, “Earrings,” LoveToKnow (LoveToKnow Corp), accessed June 22, 2020,

[3] Ibid.

[4] Viola et al., “1950s Jewelry Styles and History,” Vintage Dancer, accessed June 15, 2020,

[5] “Vintage Jewelry Workshop – Part V,” Vintage Fashion Guild Forums, accessed June 15, 2020,

[6] Ibid.

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