Jewelries are most widely seen worn by women, which is why today, men either belong to two camps: those who don’t wear them at all thinking they’re for women; and those who wear too much! Let’s discuss some dos and don’ts of wearing jewelry to know the right amount of metals you should wear to achieve a truly classic men’s style.
Throughout history in different cultures what can and cannot be worn by men has varied and still varies greatly. For example, if you think of the Maharajas in India or the French kings of the 18th century with their showy gems, it could be considered to be effeminate or over the top in this day and age. However, if anything, history has shown us that wearing jewelry as men is something very normal. By definition, jewelry is an accessory that is made in parts of metal or gemstones or semi-precious stones that serve as ornamentation and doesn’t necessarily have any practical value.
Typical Pieces of Jewelry for Men
Cufflinks actually do serve a purpose but just because they do, doesn’t mean they’re not jewelry because they are very decorative. When it comes to men’s jewelry apart from rings, cufflinks are probably the most widely worn item today. Most of them come in metals that are usually less expensive; more precious metals include sterling silver, yellow gold, rose gold, white gold, or platinum. You can have a sterling silver cufflink that is heavily plated with platinum or gold that will never rub off and you can pass on to your grandchildren.
Sometimes cufflinks have decorative elements such as enamel or semi-precious stone inserts such as lapis lazuli or onyx or they could have sapphires or rubies. Sometimes, they’re also made out of shell such as mother of pearl or maybe some jade. Of course, cufflinks require you to wear a shirt that is made for them which is typically a French cuff or double cuff shirt that is folded over. For White Tie, you can also have a single-cuffed shirt that is also worn with cufflinks. In a more casual setting, you can sometimes find combination cuffs which are button cuffs but they also have two buttonholes so they can be worn with cufflinks.
Personally, I love to wear cufflinks and when I wear a suit, I usually always wear cufflinks and even with a sport coat. If you’re interested, you can click here to be taken to our guide that gives you a glimpse into my cufflink collection and if you’re interested in high-quality cufflinks at a fair price, check out the cufflinks at the Fort Belvedere Shop.
2. Shirt Studs & Waistcoat Buttons
Shirt studs and waistcoat buttons are not anymore as popular today, but traditionally, shirt studs were worn with formal outfits such as a Black Tie outfit or White Tie and they were just more decorative than the regular buttons you have sewn-on on dress shirts today. Often, those shirt studs would match the cufflinks and you basically have a set. Today, most people don’t attend many Black Tie functions and so, it’s really valuable to have a pair of cufflinks that can be worn independently of formal functions.
Also, if you travel, you can just bring one set of shirt studs and cufflinks and you can wear it with regular events, with business events, and for formal events. Because of that, I designed a set with monkey fist cufflinks that you can find here. You can buy them independently, you can wear them independently, but it’s kind of the one set that works for all.
Traditionally, men would also wear removable matching waistcoat buttons so you had shirt studs, cufflinks, and waistcoat buttons all in the same look. This was called a full dress set and today, you can’t really find them new anymore. You have to buy them vintage, but if you go to all those lengths and dress up for black tie and white tie, you might as well go the extra mile, especially if you’re into clothes and it’s just a hobby and a passion for you just like it is for me.
A watch is functional as it tells you time, but ultimately today, it’s more of a jewelry piece for most men especially if they invest a lot of money into it to show off certain complications or just a really cool look. Of course, one could argue if it has a leather strap, it’s more of an accessory. If it has a metal band, it’s more of a piece of jewelry, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. It’s all about what you think and how you feel.
As a funny side note, historically, it was impolite to have a watch with you because if you would look at it in company, you would imply that you had better things to do which would have been considered to be rude. Then came the pocket watch and today, people wear their Rolex Submariner with their tuxedo outfits even though it doesn’t make sense from a formality point of view.
Perhaps, the most obvious jewelry item a man can wear is a classic ring; the most common one being the wedding band or the wedding ring but you can also have things like a pinky ring or a signet ring. If you want to know how many rings you should wear and what’s the specific meaning of a ring if you wear it on your thumb or your middle finger, our guide to Men’s Ring Meaning & Definitions can surely be of help.
5. Tie Bars or Tie Clips
Particularly, men who don’t just dress up because they have to but because they want to find that a tie bar or a tie clip is just another thing they can add to make their outfit more special. A more functional advantage of a tie bar is if you have one shoulder that is lower than the other like me, your tie will have a tendency to go in one direction and a tie clip can keep it in place all day so it always looks neat.
Tie clips are an elegant example of having a functional item that still serves an ornamental purpose. Sometimes, you can even find vintage sets that have matching tie bars and cufflinks back in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, you could also find tie tacks and sometimes they had chains that held your tie in place. If you wear it today it gives you a certain vintage look which is okay. If that’s what you’re going for but it’s definitely a modern aesthetic.
If you go in the further back men wore tie stick pins which were just a pin that would go through your tie and no, it doesn’t damage it even though it leaves a little hole. Today, you can wear them with ascots, especially formal ones and maybe even with a formal three-piece suit. I like the look of it because it’s very subtle but it’s different. Prince Charles, for example, still wears them today and particularly with morning wear ensembles. If you want to learn how to use a stick pin for a formal cravat, please check out our guide here.
6. Collar Pins, Collar Clips & Collar Bars
Collar pins, clips, and bars are among the accessories that had their heyday during the 1930s. At that time, a lot of men would wear them over the years. They almost completely lost their appeal to Main Street and really only dandies or clotheshorses would wear them to underline their unique style. Fortunately, in recent years due to shows such as Boardwalk Empire, Mad Men, Peaky Blinders, or Perry Mason, more men have become aware of collar clips and collar pins and as a consequence, you see more men wearing them today.
Again, they’re typically worn by men who don’t feel like they have to wear a uniform but who see clothing as an expression of their personal style and they enjoy it. Traditionally, collar bars, clips, and pins were only worn with very narrow collars because you couldn’t have that much of a spread. It would slightly elevate the tie knot but today, collars are typically a bit more spread, so many of our customers asked us to make a wider collar clip; we listened and we did. To learn about wearing a collar clip or pin in your outfit without looking over the top, check out our guide on How To Style A Collar Clip.
7. Chains & Fobs
When the pocket watch was at its peak, men would of course also have a pocket watch chain that they would wear. Typically, the vest had a little hole or it was just pulled to a buttonhole and you would see it in the front and the pocket watch was in your vest pocket. If you wear a watch chain today, it adds a distinctive vintage look to your appearance and people typically only do it if they’re really into clothes. Personally, I really like wearing a double Albert chain with a hole in a double-breasted vest because it has this symmetrical look, has a little fob on it and it’s just very debonaire in my mind.
When it became historically okay to wear a timepiece with your evening wear and people weren’t offended if you looked at it, first, you had really flat thin pocket watches and those wouldn’t be worn with a long watch chain but with a simple fabric fob or that was a bit decorative in your vest waistcoat pocket.
Today’s style icons such as Lino Ieluzzi have popularized chains in menswear again. For example, he uses it with a money clip in his pocket and then the other end of the chain being attached to a belt loop or a belt, so when he wears a jacket or a suit, it hangs out underneath and you can see it like with a pocket watch. This is definitely a more casual approach to wearing a chain but it’s nevertheless quite popular and modern, and it works well if you don’t want to be too stiff in your overall appearance.
8. Bracelets, Necklaces & Chains
If I look at my dad’s generation, I could often see men wearing necklaces or bracelets and I remember I used to wear one because my dad would and so I got one. I even got a silver bracelet on one of our Turkey vacations back in the day. In combination with a mullet, five rings on your fingers, and a strong tan, you can look like you’re straight up in New Jersey from the 1980s.
A more modern approach to bracelets is semi-precious stones such as tiger’s eye or onyx or lapis lazuli. In my mind, they’re a bit of a fad and I’m sure they won’t stay around. They’re also not really part of the classic men’s style realm, at the same time, all the younger people like to wear it and it’s more in line with a casual approach to style. Heavy link chains are typically of gold or in gold colors and they’re sometimes bedazzled with diamonds and they have become a status of wealth in society today; they’re not something that is classically associated with permanent men’s style.
9. Belt Buckles
Most people will think of belt buckles as a very functional item and not an ornamentation item but if you think about it, cowboys, for example, have sterling silver buckles with inlaid turquoise or you can spend thousands of dollars on Hermes H buckles in precious metals, for example, that are definitely more of a jewelry piece than a functional piece even though they serve a functional use.
Personally, I like to match the color of my belt buckle to the rest of my accessories and to do that very effectively, I work with a belt system that allows me to change the style and color of my belt buckle very easily with all the belts I have in my collection. You can learn more about this technique from our How to Pair Belts & Shoes (and Your Metal Accessories) guide.
10. Lapel Pins or Chains
Even though lapel pins or chains are quite a rare sight, they still are around and I’ve found that in recent years they’ve become more popular than maybe 20 years ago. It’s either a pin that goes through the buttonhole of your lapel or sometimes it’s a chain that drapes from the buttonhole down into your pocket. Sometimes they’re old pocket watch chains that just have been repurposed.
Just like a boutonniere, a lapel pin can make you stand out a bit more because it’s a bit more uncommon. But even politicians sometimes have little pins there that show their association to their country or their alma mater.
Dos and Don’ts for Men’s Jewelries
1. Don’t Show Off
The first rule is to skip jewelry that has big branding on it or that’s super ostentatious unless of course, you want to impress others with your status symbols rather than your intellect, humor, or charm. Frankly, trying to impress others with their expensive Hermes belts or Rolex watches typically means that there’s an insecurity that you have to overcome because you don’t feel valued enough by others without them.
Always keep in mind, jewelry catches the eye because it’s typically made of metal or reflective and it is made to draw your attention to it. As a general rule of thumb, less is more and if someone calls it bling, it’s a good indicator that it’s too much.
So, if you wear a White Tie or Black Tie, you don’t have to wear that watch and it was historically acceptable to do so. Cufflinks for daywear are typically made out of just gold or silver without any bold diamonds that are sparkling and just showy. Of course, some precious stones are different because they’re less showy; they just pick up a color that’s in your tie. But, at the end of the day, it’s your style, and if you want to be bolder and wear bolder colors and more jewelry go for it just be aware of how it could be perceived by others.
2. Don’t Wear Too Many Jewelries At Once
Coco Chanel’s advice to women was to always look in the mirror and then remove one accessory and the same holds true for men. A common misconception is that more jewelry is more formal, but a little dose of minimalism can really help. So, if you have one loud ring or signature cufflinks keep the rest really toned down.
For rings, most men are fine with a wedding band and maybe one other ring on the opposite hand. If you look at pictures of Pitti Uomo, you see a bunch of guys wearing stacked bracelets and other accessories which is a good way to show that too much is just not a good take because it looks overloaded.
3. Don’t Wear Oversized Jewelry
For men, that could be an extremely big gold watch or a ring that resembles that of an NFL championship ring. Usually, big expensive rings or items of jewelry for men are really no different than a status symbol. It’s an equivalent of a woman wearing a really big engagement ring and holding it in a way that everyone can see how much money someone spent on you. It can easily come across as looking cheap or like a mobster or drug lord. Keep in mind that subtlety is the key to true elegance.
4. Do Choose The Right Proportions for Your Jewelry
If you are a bigger person and you have bigger fingers, by all means, go with a ring that is more substantial. If you’re a very thin guy, maybe a thinner band works just like a thinner tie would or a jacket with skinnier lapels. In the same way, if you have thin wrists and have a small build, well a smaller watch is better than one with a larger diameter.
5. Do Select Jewelry That Has A Personal Meaning
There is a reason why Pandora is so commercially successful because they allow women to commemorate certain events in their life and make it part of their jewelry bracelet. Men can do the same with a watch, a signet ring, or a pair of cufflinks that can commemorate an important step in their life. It can be something they reward themselves for or it can be tied to a relative like your father, your uncle who handed it down to you, which then makes the jewelry very special to you and is above its materialistic value.
At the same time, be careful not to be too kitschy and maybe have political party affiliations made part of your jewelry. It will likely just alienate people and it’s the equivalent of wearing t-shirts with bold messages on them.
6. Do Match Your Metals
That may sound simple at first but once you think about all the different metals in your outfits it can be quite tricky. If you don’t happen to have a matching metal for everything, that’s okay, don’t be self-conscious, and just wear it. If you can make it all work together, consider it and the overall result will be better. And no, if your wedding band is gold or silver, you should always leave it on and not try to take it off or mix and match other things because again, it has a meaning and that’s more important than matching up the colors.
7. Do Choose Jewelry Based on The Occasion
This is not just true for clothing in general, but particularly for jewelry, you wouldn’t want to show up or bedazzled at a funeral because that would draw the attention to you and your status symbols or shiny objects rather than to the deceased. Another example is if you’re going to a job interview, it’s probably wise not to wear your most expensive Rolex watch. On the other hand, though, when you’re negotiating a business deal and the other person wants to see that they’re dealing with an accomplished business person, that Rolex may actually help you. Remember that there’s no cut and clear rule about what to wear, it all depends on the situation.
In conclusion, we all have different styles and someone can pull-off wearing earrings, a number of bracelets, and rings and it just works with their overall style. But if you look at it from a lens of the classic permanent style, all the jewelry items and rules we’ve laid out here will serve you well. Always keep in mind that when you’re in doubt, always tone it down and go with less than more.