Why Hoop Earrings Are More Than Just an Accessory

Like a crisp white t-shirt or a really good pair of jeans, hoop earrings are a wardrobe essential. They’re the ultimate everyday earring, whether you keep them small or size up. However, this piece of jewelery is also loaded with history, and navigating the origin of the hoops isn’t nearly as easy as styling them.

Before they became widely known as a quotidian fashion item, hoops were a cultural emblem. For decades, Black and Latinx communities have been sporting these earrings, which were popularized by disco-scene queens like Donna Summer and Diana Ross in the ’70s and gained more ground in the ’80s and ’90s, when hip hop was transitioning from underground niche interest to omnipresent genre. In “Around the Way Girl,” LL Cool J rapped about wanting “a girl with extensions in her hair” and “bamboo earrings, at least two pairs.” For Black women, this was validating, giving hoops an aspirational air within our own communities. Growing up, I seldom saw my cousins ​​without their XXL nameplate bamboo hoops. They felt like a symbol of adulthood. By the time I was in high school, I had a supersize set of my own, so big they grazed my shoulders.

But hoops were in style—for women and men—long before they were name-dropped in rap songs. in The Chronicle of Higher Education, University of Pennsylvania professor Jonathan Zimmerman wrote that they date back to ancient Assyrian royalty. “In Nimrud, located in present-day Iraq, there’s a depiction of King Ashurnasirpal II (884-859 BC) wearing thick hoop earrings,” he wrote. Meanwhile, pirates sported hoops because their old wives’ tales led them to believe that they could prevent drowning and keep seasickness at bay. In an essay for The New York Times, writer Sandra E. Garcia interviewed Yekaterina Barbash, associate curator of Egyptian art at the Brooklyn Museum, who attributed their origin to Nubia, a fourth-century civilization located in present-day Sudan. She noted that in Ancient Egypt, gold hoops were a gender-neutral style staple for queens and pharohs like Nefertiti, Hatshepsut, Tutankhamen and Cleopatra.

Their roots are wide-ranging, yes, but for Black and Brown communities today, hoop earrings still feel like ours—part of the aesthetic carved out by our aunts, mothers, cousins ​​and older sisters. In Garcia’s essay, late Vogue editor-at-large André Leon Talley called hoops “a beautiful ethnic symbol.” Though they don’t belong exclusively to Black communities, they’re beacons of the Black aesthetic. “In the 1960s and 1970s, the hoop earring became associated with African beauty when Nina Simone and Angela Davis started wearing the hoops,” he said. So although Black and Latinx communities didn’t invent hoop earrings, they recontextualized them for the modern era. Wearing bold, chunky, shiny gold hoops was a way of unabashedly asserting one’s identity in a society that demanded that women of color do the opposite and shrink themselves. So it wouldn’t be a stretch to call them emblems of resistance.