For better or for worse, there are certain words we associate with masculinity or maleness.
Strong. Handsome. Power. Confidence.
A word we don’t often hear associated with men? Jewelry.
Though men don’t approach jewelry the way that women do, we still wear it, and it behooves us to know a bit about it. To that end, this article will serve as a style guide to the most common types of jewelry available to men. We will also offer advice as to how, when, and whether or not to wear any given piece.
You can read this article from start-to-finish or skip ahead to any section that interests you by clicking one of the links below:
- Men’s Jewelry, Dress Codes & Image
- Different Jewelry Materials
- How Do Karats Work?
- Types of Men’s Jewelry
Jewelry, Dress Codes, & Image
This was not always the case, however. Centuries ago, wealthy men would adorn themselves similarly to the way wealthy women adorn themselves today: lots of jewels, precious metals everywhere, and the like.
Since Beau Brummel dictated darkness and simplicity in men’s dress, this has largely fallen by the wayside. In modern times, the most jewelry a man wears will be a watch, tie bar, wedding band, and perhaps a class ring.
As it relates to dress codes, there’s a simple inverse proportional relationship: the more formal the dress code, the less jewelry you should wear.
If you’re at a black tie event, you shouldn’t even be wearing a watch. On the other hand, if you work in a casual office, what’s to stop you from wearing a watch and wedding band on one wrist and a couple of leather bracelets on the other?
Image & Jewelry
The amount and type of jewelry you wear has a direct effect on the image that you project to the world. If you’re the American president, you need to give off an air of stability, dignity, and approachability. It’s likely that you wear a wedding band and a watch, perhaps some cufflinks.
If you’re a rock star or rapper, on the other hand, you’re much more open to doing whatever you like. Big necklaces, leather wristwear, and multiple piercings might be your thing. If you’re Mr. T, then it’s likely that you wear your body weight in jewelry.
*Editor’s Note: If Mr. T is reading this, we strongly encourage him to say hello so we can confirm that we aren’t, in fact, anybody’s fool.*
Different Jewelry Materials: What Is Precious Metal?
Most jewelry is made of some kind of metal, often a precious one.
A precious metal is defined as a rare metallic chemical element. It has high economic value due to its rarity and is shiny and strong with a high melting point. That they can be combined (“alloyed”) with other metals makes them perfect for jewelry.
Common materials (precious or otherwise) for jewelry are:
- Gold: When we think of precious metals, we think of gold. Specifically, yellow gold. It’s heavy and has a long-held association with wealth and prosperity, but is sometimes considered gauche. The one exception to this perception is a man’s wedding band, where a simple gold band is still the standard.
- Silver: Silver is more subdued than metal, and less precious. It’s less expensive and softer but much more popular in our time. Fun fact: technically, it’s a white metal.
- White Gold: Gold alloy with a white metal like palladium or nickel. Looks like silver. Good for folks who like the look of silver but have allergic reactions to silver.
- Platinum: An expensive, very durable metal that looks like silver.
- Rose Gold: A pinkish gold that has been incredibly popular for about five or six years as of this writing. A gold alloy with copper, it’s an interesting choice for wedding bands, cufflinks, and tie bars.
- Titanium: Another very hard metal that’s dark grey. A newer choice for wedding bands, it’s less expensive than precious metals but extremely durable. It’s also good for folks with allergies and thus good for body piercings.
How Do Karats Work?
“Karat” is a unit of measurement with regard to the purity or fineness of gold. It shouldn’t be confused with “carat,” which refers to diamonds.
100% pure gold is 24-karat (24k), but is generally considered too soft to use for jewelry. To increase its strength, it is alloyed with other metals. This brings the price and karat number down correspondingly.
Different Types Of Men’s Jewelry
Rings are probably the most common type of jewelry for men. Wedding bands are obviously incredibly popular, but class rings and fraternal rings are easy enough to find. Signet rings lend a bit of elder statesman gravitas to a look a bit out of place on anyone under, say, 40.
Men have become increasingly style-conscious since the 1990’s. Seeing opportunity in the marketplace, more and more mainstream jewelry companies are offering a wider array of men’s rings outside the aforementioned styles.
- Should I wear rings? For most men, it’s best to wear no more than two rings. This can be a wedding band and class ring, or perhaps a wedding band and a fashion ring that you like for its own sake. In job interviews or big meetings, we suggest keeping it to a wedding band and nothing more.
Easily one of the most common styles of jewelry for men, cufflinks are a bit like cigarettes. You start with one pair because you’re curious, and then you get hooked and end up with an insane collection. Not the worst fate in the world, for sure.
Cufflinks are made with a variety of different closures, some toggles, some fixed, and some double-sided. Immediately below is what’s referred to as a “bullet back” cufflink.
Below is an example of a “fixed back” cufflink, wherein the back doesn’t toggle like we saw with the bullet back:
Bracelets have seen a bit of a resurgence in the past few years. Historically, men have worn metal bracelets in figaro patterns and ID styles engraved with their names or intials. Nowadays, a “wristwear” industry has evolved, and there are lots of companies like Maven Metals making bracelets out of other materials, such as leather (shown above).
- Should I wear a bracelet? Bracelets’ increased acceptance has made them more common with suits and other tailored clothing, but we suggest keeping the look discreet in such situations. If you tend to dress casually and / or work in a casual office, feel free to put on some wristwear more liberally.
Tie Bars & Tacks
Tie bars (also known as tie clips), thankfully, have seen a huge surge in popularity in the past ten years after having rested dormant throughout the dreadful 1990’s. We have a great guide for correct placement and width of tie clips if you need some pointers.
Tie tacks, also known as tie pins, actually pierce the tie and shirt to keep the tie in place. These are often worn with ascots but less so with neckties nowadays:
We generally advise opting for tie bars instead of tie tacks, as poking holes in fine silk isn’t our idea of a good time.
- Should I wear tie bars & tie tacks? For tie bars, the answer is a definite “yes.” Tie bars are the perfect example of form meeting function and as such will never truly be out of style.
As we mentioned above, we don’t recommend tie tacks because they pierce the silk on ties. If you choose to wear one, make a mental note of the location of the hole in your tie and use that exclusively so as to minimize damage.
The jewelry industry term for “men’s necklaces,” men often wear chains underneath their shirts, thus making them only partially visible to the world. Worn plainly or perhaps with a religious pendant, chains are subject to similar rules of scale when it comes to formality: the slimmer the dressier, and vice-versa.
Chains should hit at about mid-breastbone. Often sold in different lengths, you’ll have to try a couple on to make sure you buy one that syncs well with your body type, specifically the length of your torso.
- Should I wear chains? If you keep it discreet, then yes. Don’t wear more than one, and keep the thickness and length proportional to your body type.
Men’s piercings have had peaks and valleys of popularities and meanings for many years. Even just twenty-five years ago, it was considered edgy for a man to have his ear pierced. On top of this, he had to be sure that it was his left ear specifically that took an earring, as a pierced right ear was a signifier that the wearer was gay.
We’ve since moved away from such arbitrary nonsense, and men now have both ears pierced (sometimes with multiple piercings), nose piercings, nipple piercings, tongue rings, and even genital piercings.
Men’s piercings are typically rings or studs, whereas frillier, dangly jewelry is left to women.
- Should I have/wear piercings? We treat piercings similarly to how we would tattoos: if you can comfortably cover up what you have in a business or more conservative setting, do whatever you please. If you can’t cover up or remove a piercing for something like a funeral or a big meeting, though, your life may end up being more difficult.
Generally, we advise against a lot of facial piercings, as these can affect your ability to make the necessary impressions on job interviews and similar situations.
If your lifestyle is such that piercings are acceptable or encouraged, then feel free to do whatever you like.
For most of us, belt buckles are simply silver- or gold-looking hardware that allows a belt to do its job: look good while holding up your trousers.
In the American West, however, belt buckles have a much stronger significance.
Sometimes referred to as a “cowboy calling card,” a belt buckle is a finishing touch to an outfit and is indicative of the wearer’s personality. This is particularly true in Texas.
Expensive, fancier models are often finished with gemstones and are painstakingly engraved. The bald eagle or American flag tend to be popular motifs for Western belt buckles.
- Should I wear Western belt buckles? The answer depends on how immersed you are in Western/cowboy culture, and then whether or not you live and work in a place where it wouldn’t be detrimental to your image to do so.
If you’re a businessman in Texas, then wearing a fancy belt buckle with a cowboy hat and cowboy boots might actually make sense with your suit. If you’re a rancher in Montana, people might look at you funny if you don’t wear a fancy belt buckle. On the other hand, if you’re a lawyer in Boston, you’ll probably get laughed out of a courtroom wearing such things.
Again, know your audience!
For men, jewelry can be a great way to add a sharp finishing touch to an ensemble. The key is to remember that it’s a complement and shouldn’t be the focal point of an outfit. Let your tailoring and grooming do the talking before anything else.