When I was about 16 years old, I became obsessed with piercings. I'm not sure if it was the result of typical teenage rebellion, the music scene I was into, or my admiration of a particularly cool "Real World" cast member who had an eyebrow ring, but I somehow convinced my parents to accompany me to my local piercing parlor, sign the consent forms and allow a perfect stranger to fill every last piece of real estate in my ears with stainless steel hoops and barbells. (Their only hard and fast rule was that I was never to put a hole anywhere on my face.)
As is incredibly clear in the fashion business right now, nostalgia is trending in a big way — as is super-delicate ear jewelry. I removed most of my severe-looking piercings when I started working in fashion, but in 2012, I met Colby Smith — jewelry designer and founder of 108 Atelier in both New York and Los Angeles — who re-styled my still-pierced ears with thin white and rose gold hoops. With nearly 30,000 Instagram followers, he's traveled the world to work his magic on some of the chicest women around, including supermodel Candice Swanepoel and actresses Abbey Lee and Zoë Kravitz. Aside from being supremely in-demand, his social media feed serves as an inspiration board for those looking to incorporate body jewelry into their own looks. And, lately, that includes more and more fashionable men.
With current runway trends glorifying skateboarders, '90s rockers and even the Hot Topic era of pop punk, Smith says pangs of nostalgia are what drive many men into his studios today — although some are just in search of a way to subtly enhance their everyday look. "I think it's split 50/50 between people trying to resurrect something they had in their teenage years — they had it, they got over it, then they realize it's still open and can put something in it," Smith says. "It's nostalgic in a way, but as we get older, we realize the things we do when we're younger are actually cooler. Then there's the other crowd, where it's an aesthetic [choice] that fits their style — like, this look would be complete with an ear or nose piercing."
Sure, many probably assume that if you're not a Lenny Kravitz-level rock star or a trendsetting weirdo like Shia LaBeouf, getting your ear pierced as an adult male would be met with confusion at best and either disappointment or ridicule at worst. However, Smith strongly disagrees. For men who are looking to get pierced — either for the first time or to refill a hole they had in their youth — he suggests a basic hoop in a white or yellow gold as a starting point. "White gold imitates silver — when you were 15 you maybe had some kind of silver earring or stud; then you kind of upgrade it for your more sophisticated 30-year-old life, so you do a gold ring, 18 carat or 22 carat, and it just gives you a little status," he explains. "Then there's silver, titanium, surgical steel... those metals feel very masculine to me. Like, steel? What's more masculine than that?"
Just because you're no longer an angsty teen, that doesn't mean you should avoid the styles you loved in your formative years, although the key is to adopt a subtler, more modern version. "When we're young, we have a voice that kind of guides us — it makes you unique and individual," Smith says. "But as we get older we try to blend in more and try to tone that voice out a little bit. I love the reconnection to the little voice in your head that's been there the whole time, telling you what’s actually cool instead of trying to conform."
If pop culture's current menswear icons and top models are any indication — think Zayn Malik, Justin Bieber, Anwar Hadid, Frank Ocean and GQ favorite Jonah Hill — the minimal gold earring as status symbol (and as an "in the know" fashion statement) movement will only continue to pick up steam, much like it continues to do among Smith's female customers. But before you head to your nearest needle-wielding professional, make sure you're completely comfortable with both the jewelry and placement you choose — and with the mixed feedback that may come with it. Above all, you need to keep it simple, as the new adornment has to look like it belongs to you. "An ear piercing, a nostril piercing, maybe a septum piercing, but that's about it," Smith advises. "Don't try to do the weird, quirky, really delicate pretty stuff; try to do something that just suits you and complements your overall look."
Homepage photo: Scott Dudelson/Getty Images