Costume jewelry has been part of culture for over 300 years. We're here to celebrate it and my newly discovered appreciation for all things oversized necklaces, chunky bangles, and giant rings.
The inspiration for this post is all thanks to two people in particular, costume jewelry collector Iris Apfel & Alexis Bittar, famed costume jeweler, both based in the fashion mecca, New York City.
Back in the early 1900s, costume jewelry began as an option to wear less expensive accessories and still look stylish. With the average salary being a mere $400 a year, I can only imagine how special one single piece must have meant to someone. A lot of the materials used in costume jewelry included rhinestone, brass, nickel silver, and cubic zirconia which made it more accessible to everyday people. It wasn’t until the art deco era between the 1920s and 30s that Coco Chanel incorporated costume jewelry into her designs. That was a pivotal moment in the world of fashion and its relationship with costume jewelry.
I searched everywhere in the Vogue archives going back to 1892 but couldn't find anything on when they started incorporating costume jewelry in their articles. One day I will find it and when I do I will be sure to add it here. They do, however, begin mentioning accessories and jewelry around the 1930s in regularity.
I also saw a few books on the Amz Beast about costume jewelry:
Alexis & Iris
The golden era began in the 20th century for the middle class who wanted beautiful, but affordable jewelry. Even working-class women could afford a small piece of costume jewelry to wear to work.
SO, guess who was born in the 1920s? The costume jewelry queen herself, Iris Apfel. This is directly after the great depression, so Iris grew up in an era where costume jewelry was booming.
I recently watched her documentary titled "Iris" and saw a familiar name, Alexis Bittar. I recalled seeing the name while shopping online luxury consignment stores and even have purchased a piece. He is apparently great friends with Iris. When he was younger his parents purchased a huge lot of costume jewelry in the amount of $300 for his birthday, and that is where his obsession began with collecting vintage pieces. I can relate to that feeling now. I remember one of the first items that I bought from The RealReal was an Alexis Bittar bracelet.
For the longest time, I had wondered why I never had a connection to buying jewelry. I needed something to click. Well, that something has emerged from the depths inside of me (ohh kinky) and I really look forward to treasure hunting when I’m out and about on my thrifty adventures. I used to always bypass the jewelry counter and that will never happen again. There's always the sweetest senior ladies working those counters too, whom I prefer to conversate with over any other type of human being. I will always peek in and see if anything speaks to me the way the costume jewelry speaks to Iris and Alexis.
I'm ready to be weighted down by my jewels. People will hear me coming.
In the '90s, Alexis hones his focus toward fashion jewelry, carving Lucite bracelets from his small apartment. I have my eye on a few pieces of Alexis Bittar necklaces that I saw on The RealReal. I will share the link to all of their costume jewelry to shop consignment here or if you fancy purchasing directly from Alexis Bittar, shop here.
The first piece I got was the green pyramid cuff you see next to the bangles. The bangles are thrifted pieces I got for the purpose of making this blog. One is a lovely wood with gold inserts and the other is a hammered gold metal bangle. I look forward to finding more colorful cuffs and bracelets to stack up my arm.
If you think costume jewelry is just some accessory for your granny think again. Cardi B & Megan Thee Stallion just dropped another collaborative song and you can see they are wearing huge bangles and jewelry made by none other than Alexis Bittar in the entire campaign shoot and music video for Bongos.
Also, the next time you catch up on some Sex & The City, peep some of the accessories. Alexis worked with famed costume designer Patricia Field, in styling the jewelry for the show.
Back to Iris
Iris seems to do a lot of bargain-hunting and thrifting and she recently shared on her Instagram (which I do follow and love) that she was going to a vintage flea market in New York. She's an expert haggler and said you do a disservice to the seller if you don't haggle the price. She said it's because they feel stupid for not asking for even more if they knew you'd cave that easily. I would absolutely give my left toe to be able to attend a New York vintage flea market.
She continues to grow her collection that has taken over her home(s) and a warehouse/storage space which I would give my other toe to see and hobble my way through the surely awe-inspiring furniture, textiles, and accessories she's managed to collect in her 102 years of gracing this earth.
Pieces from her collection were featured at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from 2005-2006 with 40 objects displayed. She was hands-on with choosing the pieces and even showed them exactly how she stacked them which I found fascinating to watch.
The Treasure I Found
Now we have a bit about where I drew inspiration for this blog from, lets look at what I was able to find at the thrift stores around town. I visited three: Value Village, American Cancer Society, and Goodwill Blue (the boutique one). I definitely will be checking out local antique stores next but they always price things a bit higher and I was looking for the bargain so I could buy several to show here.
The Green Teardrop
The first one to catch my attention was this amazing bold teardrop necklace in this beautiful sage green and gold chain.
Part of the skill I see in Iris' styling and what I'd love to try, is layering these pieces. You can't just slap them together either, there's an art to it. Eventually, I hope to have so many varying sizes, colors, and shapes that I will have the option to do so, but for now, I can layer them with the smaller necklaces I already own. This honker of a jewelry piece is so outstanding. It's going to be a blast to style.
The Rose Chain Necklace
I don't have a favorite yet, I love them all, but this one tickles an extra bit of my fancy because of my love for roses. It's just SO beautiful. I can see this with a vanilla soft fuzzy turtleneck, black lipstick, some black flared slacks and my hair in a bun. Gasp* love.
If you look closely you can see it's a double chain which I also love so much. I have a gold choker somewhere that would be fun to pair with it. Maybe a long strand pearl beaded necklace as well. The excitement lies within how I can mix it up and never repeat a look.
The Ivory Cluster Necklace
Perhaps, in my new found love for finding vintage costume jewelry and learning more about it, I will be able to describe it better. As of now, I don't have the vocabulary to describe the beauty of this necklace. It has hexagonal shapes in-layed, it has varying circles, and it looks pearly colored (none of these descriptions sound elegant enough). I want it to read like poetry. This necklace is going to go with so much this Autumn/Winter. Anything with a button-up collar or roll-neck is going to be a candidate for this pairing. I look forward to playing with options.
Hopefully, you have a little fire lit now you've seen the potential fun we can all have with costume jewelry, new and old.
I also hope it made you think maybe it’s time to go ask Grandma if she really does want all those lucite bracelets, pearls, and clip-ons or if she plans on leaving them to you because girlfriend...you WANT these in your collection I promise you. If you don't, tell her to hit me up lol.
Iris' Met Exhibit: https://www.metmuseum.org/press/exhibitions/2005/rara-avis-selections-from-the-iris-apfel-collection
Iris' backstory: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iris_Apfel
Alexis Bittar Story: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexis_Bittar & https://www.alexisbittar.com/pages/about