Around this time last year, our fantasies whirred with men wearing jewelry — think: Normal People‘s Paul Mescal and Bridgerton’s Regé-Jean Page and the shiny silver specimens hanging around their necks. Locked up at home, with little to do but stare at our tiny little screens, we thirsted after our celebrity crushes, men whose accessories glinted in the sun and jangled with their every step. A year and countless men-in-jewelry sightings later, though, standard-issue necklaces have started to thaw out. Luckily, there’s now an even hotter ornament that all our crushes are wearing: jewelry that goes a little deeper, literally.
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In a trend to rival the rising popularity of women turning their ears into charm bracelets, men are getting on board with their own piercing treasure chest. In May, Hulu released the first promotional images from the forthcoming biographical miniseries Pam & Tommy. In the photos, British actress Lily James, playing Baywatch star Pamela Anderson, and Sebastian Stan (Captain America), channeling Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee, recreated an iconic image of the ‘90s ür-couple, in which Anderson is seen biting Lee’s nipple ring. Just like the original photo, which was taken in 2005, after Lee and Anderson had divorced (true passion flames eternal), it became an immediate fan favorite. When Stan posted the restaged image on his Instagram account, the photo garnered more than 1.8 million likes, leading GQ UK to pose the question: “Could [this] mark the return of the nipple ring?”
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The answer came in the form of an impressive display of body jewelry flooding our feeds. For the iHeartRadio Awards in May, “Old Town Road” singer Lil Nas X wore an array of spiked hoop earrings that spread all the way up his ear. Two months later, in July, Timothée Chalamet arrived on the red carpet at Cannes for the premiere of Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch, wearing a silver-and-gold Tom Ford suit, a Clash de Cartier bracelet, and two black cartilage hoops gracing his upper ear. Though the new additions were most likely part of his makeover for his role as a star-crossed lover in Call Me By Your Name director Luca Guadagnino’s forthcoming film Bones & All, which involved Chalamet dyeing his signature dark curls bright red (a hue that is no longer part of his look), we couldn’t help crossing our fingers that he wouldn’t ditch his new baubles as quickly as he shed the blinding locks.
Then there is Gossip Girl’s resident “Sk8r Boi,” Aki Menzies (Evan Mock), who wears a gold cartilage earring alongside his pink buzzcut. The hairstyle alone is a departure from the pretty boy look established in the original series, but it’s the piercing that truly sets the 2021 re-imagination apart in our hearts. Dan Humphrey, the first show’s brooding and Brooklyn-based character who dwells on the social fringe, didn’t dare to wear jewelry, let alone pierce his ears. (It goes without saying, neither did prep kings Nate Archibald and Chuck Bass.) In 2021, though, cartilage rings are the accessory of Manhattan’s fictional elite — and countless IRL fantasies.
By August, fashion search engine ShopStyle had reported a 67% increase in year-over-year searches for men’s earrings.
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Though musicians Machine Gun Kelly and Bad Bunny, as well as former Blink 182 drummer Travis Barker, have long sported nose rings, there is a renewed interest in facial piercings. According to ShopStyle, searches for nose rings have increased by 40%, compared to 2020. With the press surrounding all three, be it because of high-profile relationships (MGK’s with Megan Fox and Barker’s with Kourtney Kardashian) or sold-out brand partnerships and tours (Bad Bunny with his Crocs and Cheetos collabs), their jewelry quickly pushed them up a notch on our hot list.
According to Lisa Brateman, a psychotherapist in New York City, our lust for men with piercings has to do with the fact that we spent so much of the last year-plus indoors and divorced from standard dating practices. Piercings on tongues, nipples, or belly buttons “draw people to some part of the body that is affiliated with sexuality,” she tells Refinery29. She explains that the longer we were in quarantine, often unable to play out our sexual desires IRL, the hotter our yen for celebrity body jewelry became.
Dawnn Karen, fashion psychologist and the author of Dress Your Best Life: How to Use Fashion Psychology to Take Your Look — and Your Life — to the Next Level, agrees with Brateman. According to Karen, fantasizing about jewelry worn by a celebrity crush was a safe way to engage with our passions during the pandemic, which she notes is very much still a present threat. “It’s a pretty safe bet since you don’t have to worry about whether or not the person you’re attracted to has COVID [if you aren’t with them in-person],” she tells Refinery29. According to the expert, piercing yearnings are a form of escapism, because you’re using your imagination to live out your desires. And since the end of lockdown didn’t bring about the end of the pandemic, an escape from reality is just as welcome today as it was 12 months ago.
Still, with quarantine behind us, we can’t help but wonder about the fate of our crushes — and the tiny holes in their skin. Are piercings on leading men only hot because we were cooped up without IRL affection for so long? Perhaps that’s how they started, but the seasons ahead promise more sightings to come.
We’re two months away from part 2 of the Gossip Girl reboot, marking the return of Mock’s dangly ear accessory, which, in our eyes, is as covetable as any designer bag or boot worn by his costars. Given that the skateboarder-actor just entered a partnership with jewelry brand Pandora, who knows? Maybe we’ll spot Aki with even more shiny accessories come November. For now, it’s certainly something to dream about.
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