In the mid-nineteenth century, the world was riveted by accounts of the Koh-i-Noor, a 105 carat diamond valued at 137 million US dollars in today’s money. This lavish rock was given to Queen Victoria in 1850 by the royal family of India, as part of a settlement following the Sikh Wars. There was a catch though: the stone was said to be cursed, and any man who wore it was sure to meet a tragic end. While all pieces of bling are not as dangerous as the Koh-i-Noor, for the sake of style, men should approach every item of jewelry as though it were imbued with a deadly hex.
Given the above injunction, it should be obvious that we have a pretty conservative stance on guys getting glammed up with precious metals and shiny stones. For a lot of reasons, men with jewelry just don’t sit well with us. For one thing, in today’s society, jewelry is more of a feminine interest than anything else – diamonds are a girl’s best friend after all, but how many guys do you know who get fired up about necklaces and bracelets or stop in their tracks when they pass a jewelry store? Probably not very many.
This might have something to do with the way men in the West have historically viewed conspicuous displays of wealth or status. In the past, many ancient peoples – notably the founders of Western civilization, the Greeks and Romans – adhered to what were known as “sumptuary laws”, which forbid men from wearing not only expensive textiles but also accessories made with gold, silver or precious stones.
Similar laws were put into effect throughout Europe during Medieval and Renaissance times as well as in America during the Colonial period. Given the puritanical values of early America, it’s not hard to see why laws forbidding showing off were accepted and encouraged. Of course, with time they became hard to enforce and were often broken, but probably not without first taking at least some root in the North American cultural psyche.
Also, the guys you do see rocking rings or necklaces usually either come off as young and immature or old and disingenuous. Take for instance, the late-teens, early-20’s heavy metal fan who wears “tough” necklaces featuring skulls, dragons, voluptuous female silhouettes, or similar icons. While inexperienced youngsters might get away with this kind thing, a grown man will have much less luck wearing accessories which broadcast their involvement in a particular subculture.
At the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got the slick older guy who wears a ring on every other finger and a gold chain underneath his polo shirt. This kind of display might be tolerated in the workplace if you’re employed as a used car salesman or a debt collector, don’t expect it to carry you far in a board meeting or at a night club. Even the more acceptable men’s accessories, like tie clips, cuff links and watches should be as simple and plain as possible to avoid coming off as vulgar.
Basically, if it’s not a wedding or engagement ring, wear it at your own peril. For the most part, jewelry does nothing for a man and is extraordinarily difficult to pull off without either seeming pretentious or a disciple of Mr. T.