In this series of photojournalism, we touch on the notorious pair of bamboo hoop earrings. Widely re-branded in modern-day fashion, the bamboo hoop earring, also known as “door-knocker earring”, has taken on different meanings by way of cultural appropriation throughout recent years. With mass retailers selling similar styles, we aim to bring back the meaning of what this style earring symbolizes and to celebrate it.
There is no exact way to pinpoint how thick gold hoops came to be in fashion. Around 884-859 BC, what was known to be Assyria had traces of royals believed to be wearing thick gold hoops. In 2500 BC, archaeologists have discovered thick golden hoops that belonged to Sumerian women. Even in early Egypt, around 1500 BC, cats have been believed to have pierced ears for gold hoop earrings. However, in Southern California, the style emerged amongst Latin women who were associated with the subculture known as “Chola”. Particularly, these women were known to deal with gang lifestyle, poverty, and violence. Thick hoop earrings then would forever symbolize the tough attitude and lifestyle respectively. In general, gold hoop earrings were widely popularized amongst women of color and various ethnicities. It is a tradition for cultures like the Carribean, West Indian, African, and Latin to give their newborns their first pair of hoop earrings as soon as they are born. Other cultures like in South Asia and the Middle East use gold hoops and various jewelry as gifts to pass onto future generations. In 1960s America during the Black Power Movement, large hoop earrings became popular among African American women. Their hoop earrings went in tandem with natural hairstyles, and even better, activism. Such a look could be seen on the likes of Angela Davis.
From the late 1980s to early 1990s, thick gold jewelry was made mainstream through hip-hop culture, never to be forgotten again. In New York City in 1980s, Salt n’ Pepa and Roxanne Shanté popularized the bamboo hoop in videos and wardrobe. Other female MC’s continued to spread the look further. Female city dwellers across America made hoops so popular that heartthrob of the time LL Cool JJ rapped, “I need a girl with extensions in her hair, bamboo earrings, at least two pair,” in “Around The Way Girl”.
Bamboo hoop earrings, various “door-knocker” styles, and other thick gold hoops will always be remembered for their rich history with roots from culture and music. For many, they are a symbol of resistance, and for many others, they are a celebration of ethnicity. For our first series, we tap a native New Yorker, Alani Figueroa.
Does New York play a part in your jewelry style?
Wow! What an interesting question!! I’ve never sat down and really thought about this but now that I am pondering the answer to this, yes. New York does play a part in my jewelry style. I’ve always lived in the outer boroughs of New York. My younger years were spent in Brooklyn, my most recent years being spent in the Bronx. In these boroughs, exaggerated costume jewelry is really the norm. You’ll see a bunch of women walking down the street with bamboo earrings, big hoops, a bunch of rings, super old fashioned necklaces etc. And as a Hispanic girl I, of course, had my very own name earrings with the matching ring and bracelet set by the age of 6. My mom is also a jewelry queen, I’ve always raided her stuff. Jewelry has been embedded into me from the very beginning.
What is your most sentimental piece of jewelry?
My nameplate necklace and my name ring. These were a surprise gift to me from my mom at the age of 6 and they were my very first customized pieces. I still remember how badly I wanted them and the feeling I had opening them up for the first time.
What do bamboo hoops symbolize to you?
Bamboo hoops symbolize nostalgia to me. They remind me of my neighborhoods growing up and the authenticity of the culture to which they belong. They remind me of walking through the streets of Brooklyn and passing a bunch of street vendors who sold nothing but bamboo earrings in every size you could possibly imagine. They remind me of the women who’d pass me left and right with bamboo earrings of all shapes and sizes. They remind me of the younger me who needed twenty pairs because I needed variety and backup pairs (although not much has changed). Bamboo earrings definitely hold a special place in my heart.
Alani wears the Shami Bamboo Hoop Earrings with customization "Wuzg00d".
Alani wears the Trip Nameplate Anklet with customization " WUZG00D".
What is your favorite part about being a New Yorker?
My favorite part about being a New Yorker is the diversity, style, and liveliness that lives in every corner. You never know what you’ll see walking down the street or taking the subway. A day in the life is nothing short of unpredictable.