written by Valerie Hammond
After recent years of working from home, and instead of zooming around to go shopping, we were Zooming in our pyjamas, we can finally go back to “normal” again. The holiday season is only weeks away and we are ready to celebrate. As we plan parties, and get togethers with family and friends, we need to put away the sweat pants and fuzzy slippers and think about ways to be comfortable, yet look fabulous when we are out and about! One of the most affordable ways to do that is with costume jewelry!
Today, thanks to vintage dealers, consignment shops, auction sales, flea markets etc, there is no shortage of fabulous vintage jewelry available. It doesn't need to be diamonds and gold, but it can certainly look like it is. Many manufacturers of the early 20th century through 1980s, made exquisite pieces, fashioned after the jewelry worn by the most glamorous of stars of stage and screen. Today, it is possible to purchase them at a wide range of resale venues, and at very friendly price points.
Costume jewelry, according to legend, got its name when Florenz Zeigifeld approached jewelry maker William Hobe, and asked him to make jewelry for the costumes worn by his Zeigfield Follies. The rest, as they say, is history!
Many fine clothing designers of the early to mid 20th century created jewelry specifically for their new fashion lines. They were part of the dress or suit or ensemble. Brooches were also the most popular and worn on hat brims and lapels. Today, the perfect accessory can turn jeans and a shirt or sweater into an elegant evening ensemble. Something as simple as dangling crystal earrings can make the difference.
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Did you know that some vintage jewelry is actually worth more than gold? Certain designers are so highly prized that their costume jewelry is of high value. When buying a vintage costume, it is always good to check the piece for a signature or mark. Not all sellers know what they have, and that's great for buyers. Some names aren't familiar, and they can be the most exciting finds. Canadian designer Arnold Isaacs felt his name was not “exotic“ enough to compete with the French designers of the day, and the Milan haute couture houses. Despite making gowns for Mamie Eiesnhower, Lauren Bacall, Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Crawford and numerous legendary women. So when a well known actor suggested he could make his name more “Italian“ be reversing the letters, he did and the Scassi brand was born. Not easily found, or immediately recognised, Scassi jewelry is high quality, elegant, unique and highly prized by collectors of fine vintage costume jewelry. Isaacs was so influential that he convinced legendary designer Kenneth J Lane to change his career from clothing to jewelry design. Not all fine costume jewelry was signed. Early Haskell, Chanel, Schiaparelli etc. were unsigned masterpieces of design. This is where knowing your dealer, or using www.valuemystuff.com is important before you buy or sell.
Costume jewelry is versatile, and can go from office to club with no problem at all. From movie to theatre perfectly, and from fast food to Michelin star dining in an instant. Runway or statement necklaces which are opulent and often “over the top“ can pair perfectly with turtleneck sweaters and pants, leggings or skirts and elevate your look instantly while you are causally and comfortably dressed. Pendants and gold tone or gold plated chains are always elegant. Faux pearls are perfect with anything, even pj’s and fuzzy slippers for a sleepover party. Just because it's at home, doesn't mean you can't feel like Greta Garbo ! A necklace and pair of dazzling earrings can take any outfit from simple to spectacular instantly and costs you less than buying new clothes .
Sometimes we can only see very special jewelry pieces in showcases, store windows, magazines or in photos. Many marvellous pieces of costume jewelry were made to have more than one purpose, and those are often the hidden treasures. A Duette, is a brooch which comes apart to form two perfect dress clips. Coro made some of the best. A Pearl Enhancer, has a pin back and a special hinged hook, allowing it to be clipped onto a simple string of pearls. Some brooches have rings on the back so they can be worn as pendants. Unless you check the backs, you could be missing a very special piece of jewelry. Chanel, Dior, Van Cleef and Arpels, and Robert Goossons designed pearl enhancers which are stunning. And when paying top prices for those luxury brands, it is always a bonus to have an accessory which is multifunctional.
There is no rule about where or when to wear your favourite jewelry, or what to wear it on. The “in the day” rules about never wearing pink and green, or no white after Labour day, etc. are history. And when you are buying vintage you are buying flair and style, so the rule is: “there are no rules”. Bracelets are stylish and fabulous and a rhinestone bracelet on the cuff of a sweater, paired with sparkling earrings is a perfect combination to enhance any outfit. 1950s expansion bracelets are comfortable, colourful and come in a wide range of colours and sizes. Clampers are very popular. Sometimes a bangle won’t work because our hands are too large or too small or we have difficulty with clasps etc, so expansion, clampers ,and hinged bracelets are the perfect solution.
For the holidays, clear and coloured stones are ideal, and bracelets with charms, or suspended beads or faux pearls etc, are elegant and fun. If you don't feel comfortable in lots of rhinestones, gold tone, pick silver coloured bracelets which are understated and elegant . They can also be worn any time, again, versatility is the key for many accessories . Some costume jewelry was made for occasions, weddings, clubs, parties, galas, theatre, the Pantomime at the Palladium or a Piaff performer in Paris. Those are the “ WOW “ pieces that make you think Tiffanys, Aspreys, Harry Winston…while only paying for them Portobello Road, Covent Garden Braderie DeLille, Paris, or Amsterdam Flea Market prices.
Pre-owned costume jewelry is so readily available today that all brands, styles, eras and designs are easily found. Professional dealers know their inventory and can help you find that “ must have “ for every occasion. In recent years, runway necklaces, intricate designs with rhinestones, beads, crystals, drops, etc, have been taking centre stage at fashion shows, the BAFTA Awards, Acadamy Awards, worn by television presenters, stars, entertainers of every kind, politicians, cultural icons and influencers. You would be amazed at how many of those pieces are actually costume jewelry. It is true that many designers and haute couture lines are very costly, but today, we are lucky enough to have the choice of not only the tried and true designers, but also contemporary designers creating stellar costume jewelry which is well made, of wonderful quality and often rivals earlier pieces.
Heidi Daus has a flair for Art Deco style with all of the elegance of the period. Betsey Johnson pieces are whimsical and fun, Alexis Bittar designs include the use of natural elements and stone as well as crystals and rhinestones. His Lariat necklaces are stunning and ideal for an office party or evening wear. Oscar De La Renta runway necklaces have style, substance and presence. The 1970s designs are particularly striking, especially the bibs. Collars are also a great addition to any collection and again, perfect for daywear.
Lucille Ball, best known for I Love Lucy was also loved by Hattie Carnegie. So much so that Lucille Ball worked as a mannequin in Hattie Carnegie's dress shop prior to becoming the Lucy we know today. Hattie Carnegie was one of the first clothing designers to accessories her lines with jewelry made for specific dresses, suits and gowns. Many designers followed suit (pardon the play on words) and it soon became a common practice in the fashion world. Today vintage pieces are extremely popular, and some companies have gone on to re-introduce original designs to continue the legacy.
Like peanuts, one is never enough. Wear more than one brooch, or a mess of bangles, charm bracelets, rows of gold chains or pearls. Or mix and match. Vintage Nina Ricci chains and Dolce & Gabbana chains work really well together. Perfect with plain colour tops and basic black . Costume jewelry is not only fabulous and functional. It's also fun. Grouping pieces can be a great way to make a statement.
Scatter pins were popular in the 1950s, two or three brooches in the same theme. The same applies today, but now we have the option of making our own groupings. A flower and small butterflies, a butterfly and dragonfly, frog and lizard, butterfly and caterpillar. Flower basket and bee. Figural brooches offer wonderful choices. A bunch of flowers and a wheelbarrow, a skyscraper and a bird, a fish and a crab, a camel and a pyramid, cat and a dog. The choices are endless and a great way to express your inner child!
Change up the colours. Pick up one colour from your outfit and contrast it. Fuschia and purple or royal blue, lime green and gold, Wear the colours that brighten your day and make you smile. Don't be afraid to be bright!
Did you know that you can dress up your home with vintage jewelry? Brooches make fabulous napkin rings, and a white cloth set with white napkins (think snow) pinned with coloured brooches, tie pins or clips with coloured stones or enamel will make your table as festive as the day. Large brooches make great curtain tie backs. Clear crystals on a wide velvet ribbon makes an elegant table runner. Every year I take our l table top tree, make little mounds of snow from cotton wool and decorate the tree with beads, and clip on earrings . A fabulous little centrepiece, and no untangling of lights required!
Whether you are dressing for an evening out, or hosting guests at home, be sure to wear your most dazzling crystals, glittering rhinestones, your effervescent necklaces, chandelier earrings, your brilliant smile and remember, not only the wine should sparkle!
Val Hammond has been an antique and vintage jewelry dealer since 1985. She develops courses and does guest speaking across Ontario, Canada, and conducts interactive workshops on antiques and collectables for organizations, clubs and libraries. She is a contributing writer to numerous antique journals, is an online appraiser and supplies props and jewelry for television commercials and film. Val was also the Poet Laureate for the city of North York, Ontario from 1981-83, and the first female Poet Laureate in Canada.