Is Your Jewelry Fashion, Style, Taste, Art or Design?
How does the wearer or buyer of jewelry know they have made the right aesthetic choice? What are the cues and clues people use when making these consumer choices? How does attention to fashion, taste, style, art and/or design help the wearer or buyer lower the risk for making the wrong choice? This article discusses answers to these questions for the jewelry designer. That designer must be comfortable managing these things as they play out in a process of innovation, adoption, and diffusion. That designer must be sensitive to the fact that the rules underlying good aesthetics may or may not coordinate those rules underlying a person’s desire for pleasure.
How Can We Know We Have Made The Right Aesthetic Choices?
Wearers and buyers of jewelry often look for a socially acceptable way to confirm they’ve made the right aesthetic choices. They may have picked a blue necklace, but was it the right blue? They may have decided upon a 24” necklace, but was this the right length? They may have gone with gemstones, but were they the right gemstones?
What are these cues and clues people use when deciding to wear or purchase a piece of jewelry? They could listen to the jewelry designer, if that person is present at the point of a transaction. But more likely than not, the designer is not. They could look at how this designer’s jewelry was displayed. Or the packaging. Or read the designer’s description. Or look at images on a website. Or check out other people wearing this designer’s jewelry. Yet, even if the designer were present, and all this other information were available, however, why should the wearer or buyer trust the designer? Isn’t there still a high level of risk for making the less than or more than right or wrong choice?
Our wearer or buyer is a consumer of aesthetics, when selecting a piece of jewelry. They are probably not experts in jewelry design or jewelry making materials and techniques. They are looking for something appealing, but concurrently socially and psychologically acceptable. They may want to feel part of a larger group. Or, they may want confirmation about a sense of individual identity and a way to distinguish themselves from the larger group. They may want reassurance that they are living life the way life should be lived, at least according to social and cultural norms. And there is a perceived risk here, should they make the wrong choice. We want to experience aesthetic pleasures, but our insecurities often mean we look for validation from other people around us, when consuming those aesthetic pleasures.
The actual ways and the actual clues and cues we look for to legitimize our aesthetic choices will vary from person to person. But we can look at five different ways to define the consumption of aesthetic expression and pleasure to begin to get a kind of understanding for the dynamics of what is going on here. Each is associated with a set of socio-cultural rules and consequences when acquiring products like jewelry. These five expressive-consumption modes are,
Let’s settle on some initial ideas about each of these, and then elaborate further through the remainder of this chapter.
Fashion: Often considered the substitution of someone else’s taste for your own, and is assumed to represent Good Taste. Fashion satisfies the needs of the person to feel connected to a group, to imitate a sense of good taste, and to adapt to changes around them. It considerably lowers the risk for any aesthetic choices.
Taste: A person’s ability to recognize beauty in whatever form she or he finds it, in our case here, jewelry. Good Taste is associated with how well principles of beauty and art have been applied.
Style: Will vary with particular cultures or events or historical periods or individual identities. Style communicates an expectation about meaning and its expression and what form it should take within a composition as seen by the outlook of the jewelry wearer or buyer. It might be referenced by terms like classic, modern, religious, Gen-X, casual, and the like. The principal forces in the creation of style are tradition and the experience of other jewelry the person is familiar with. Style on one level is the way a person applies their taste when choosing an aesthetic. Styles change and evolve in response to the influence of contemporary life.
Art: Represents beauty regardless of context. Regardless of whether it is worn or sitting on an easel. There are no pragmatic considerations involved.
Design: Represents the recognition of the most parsimonious relationship between beauty and function within any one piece of jewelry as it is worn. Jewelry requires that the piece not only satisfies the aesthetic needs of the person, but also fulfills a practical need.
What is the essence of beauty — what we call aesthetics?
When someone wears or buys a piece of jewelry, the choice of any aesthetic, as represented by that piece of jewelry, can become very problematic. The idea of aesthetics must be thought through by the person as she or he decides to touch or wear or share or part with some money or to walk away from the jewelry item.
But one person’s aesthetic sensibility is not necessarily the same as anyone else’s. There are few universal aesthetic ideas. Most things are so subjective and so context- or situationally-specific. Rules defining personal pleasure and rules defining beauty and appeal may co-exist, but they are not necessarily the same or in harmony. We know this because, from person to person, tastes, styles and fashions differ.
One response, where such differences exist, is to rely on fashion and art to define for us how pleasure and appeal should co-exist at any one moment in time. If we cannot find universally-accepted, common rules of aesthetics, then perhaps, we should let the social group or the social majority define it for us. Beauty, then, becomes not a property of the object per se, but an aesthetic judgment based on a subjective feeling. Our sense of good taste or fashion or style or art or design is a constructed one; it is not inherent in any particular jewelry design.
This brings us back to the idea that people want to minimize their sense of risk when making the right choices about wearing or buying a piece of jewelry. There is this inner need for validation. Part of that need is met by constructing and communicating a feeling or thought about what a consensus about taste might look like. Such a consensus, in reality, does not exist. But an idea of it emerges from preferences, assumptions, expectations, values, and desires. An idea of it emerges from how well the jewelry designer has managed the design process. That is, how well the designer has anticipated shared understandings of the various client audiences the jewelry is meant for, and incorporated these into the content of the design.
Fashion, Taste, Style, Art and Design are each closely linked to the idea of consumption. These represent different ways of identifying preferences for certain types of jewelry and which directly affect the wearer’ or buyer’s choices in the marketplace. These preferences do not, however, necessarily trigger the wearing or purchase of a piece of jewelry. The interaction of these preferences with consumption is more complex and more depending on social interaction or personal motivation and strategy. People tend to emulate others (or distinguish themselves from others) or seek to reconfirm certain ideas which create certain habits and preferences, which in turn influence consumption of one piece of jewelry over another.
Yes, people want agency. They want to be free to choose jewelry that gives them pleasure. But they want validation and acceptance, as well. Most of that results from the understandings about the content of the jewelry. That is, how the content relays meanings through the aesthetic and design choices of the jewelry designer. We want the people around us to know who we are and what we have become. Jewelry makes a big statement here.
Fashion is the socially acceptable, culturally-endorsed and safe way to distinguish oneself from others, while at the same time, re-affirming membership in a group. The person is allowed to be both an individual as well as a member of a group. With fashion, the individual can have both a sense of taste of their own as well as expect others to share it. Jewelry, from a fashion perspective, is embedded with the same values as our own. It is assumed that the community of fashion is the real community of universal good taste. That assumption means that the rules of beauty and appeal are understood as directly linked to and in harmony with the rules of finding pleasure.
Fashion may be thought of encompassing two things: (1) the jewelry object itself, and (2) the process of gaining acceptance for that object. That process moves from the designer to a client to that client’s audiences and public acceptance. That process extends from inspiration to aspiration to implementation to early adoption by fashion influencers and the diffusion of the jewelry throughout a particular social network. Eventually, though, there is a decline of acceptance over time.
The fashion object — in this case jewelry — must have discernable characteristics. These must be perceivable. They must anticipate how others will understand them. They must be communicative. These characteristics must show value; that is, something about them must be measurable in either relative (example, it’s better than what I have now) or objective terms (example, it is worth twice as much as my other piece).
Fashion denotes a broad social consensus about good taste. If a piece of jewelry is “not fashionable,” it means that, at least in a particular moment, it would be judged as boring, monotonous, unsatisfying or even ugly.
Taste is an individuals’ personal aesthetic choices. Taste is how any individual judges what is beautiful, good and correct. These choices are influenced by social relations and dynamics.
Taste denotes preference. If a piece of jewelry is “not your taste,” this means you don’t like it.
Style is about agency and choice. It is strongly influenced by broadly accepted social constructs, such as time period, geography, religion, class, cultural identify. Style suggests that anything can be acceptable as long as it makes you feel good and that you are showing your authentic self.
Style denotes the manner in which something is expressed. If a piece of jewelry is “not your style,” this means it does not present your beliefs in the way you want them expressed.
Everyone wants a little art in their lives. They want beauty around them. It inspires them. It makes them feel good. They do not want to be encumbered with practical considerations in every moment of the day. Great color combinations and component arrangements are reassuring, pleasuring, uplifting. Jewelry communicates a sense of the designer’s hands that have touched it, the imagination that created it, and the work that has gone into it.
Art denotes the way the design elements and composition reflect principles of harmony and variety embedded in art theories. If a piece of jewelry is “not art,” this means it is not sufficiently harmonious.
Jewelry, however, is not a framed painting hanging in a museum. It is something that is worn. It is something that must continue to look good, even as the person wearing it moves from room to room, one lighting situation to another, one context to another.
Design denotes the way tradeoffs are made between beauty and function in the most parsimonious way. If a piece of jewelry is “not design,” this means that if you added (or subtracted) one more element to (or from) the piece, the piece would be judged more finished and more successful.
INFLUENCERS: Fashion Change Agents
Influencers are people positioned at the intersection of fashion, style and taste. They are fashion change agents. They are key to the dynamics of adoption and diffusion, coherence and contagion. They may play out these roles in an ephemeral, non-professional way, or, they may be prominent professionals in a community, a network or online. The jewelry designer is not necessarily positioned or skilled enough to adequately influence who wears or buys their jewelry. Today’s jewelry designer needs to get a good sense of how influence and influencers operate within the creative marketplace for the pragmatic purposes of managing adoption and diffusion of the jewelry she or he has created.
Influencers are one of the backbones of internet culture. Their business model centers on ways to shape everything we do in our lives from how we shop to how we learn to how we dress. Influencers are part micro-celebrity and part entrepreneur. They are opinion leaders and have been able to garner a large audience. They have proven themselves to be able to exploit how people distribute their time and attention.
It is important to get a handle on the change-agent role of the influencer. Specifically,
a) The influencer is probably not one of the earliest adopters of a newly introduced piece or line of jewelry
b) The influencer communicates using both visual and verbal representations of the jewelry, and usually needs some assistance from the designer with content
c) Influencers as people are usually more interested about fashion-style-taste than the general public they are trying to influence; they may not be up-to-date on all the current fashions, but they have the inherent skills to communicate and legitimate and instigate any fashion choice
d) Influencers have the creative skill to aesthetically and artistically assemble stylish jewelry presentations; they can articulate what good taste means in the context the jewelry as presented; they are often creators of accepted standards of good jewelry design and dress behavior
The influencer plays multiple roles from innovator, information transmitter, opinion shaper, knowledge base, social legitimizer.
It is estimated that 50% of the female population and 25% of the male population monitor fashion information on a regular basis, from surfing websites, perusing magazines, shopping, and talking about fashion. But it the influencer who best locks in their attention to any particular fashion item.
APPLIED FASHION: Inhabiting Your Jewelry
The jewelry designer needs to be sensitive to how this all plays out from the wearer’ or buyer’s point of view.
My clients and my students repeatedly ask about what the current fashion colors are? Did I see what so-and-so was wearing on TV or at an awards show? But usually, at least in Nashville, TN, a sense of fashion plays a small part in the day-to-day decisions most people make about the jewelry they want to wear.
Buying a piece of jewelry for yourself — a necklace, a bracelet, earrings, a brooch, something else — isn’t a task easily given to someone else. It’s often not a spur of the moment thing either. You just don’t rush off to the local boutique or the local Wal-Mart, grab whatever you see, and go home. I’m not talking about that impulse buy during your leisurely visit to the mall. I’m referring to purchasing those pieces of jewelry you know will have to do a lot of the hard work to accessorize your wardrobe and help you get the compliments and notice of your family, friends and co-workers you comport with and compete with each and every day.
No, buying a piece of jewelry for yourself is a multi-purposed moment, one which must be thought through carefully and one which must be savored. Lest you buy the wrong piece. That doesn’t really go with what you intend to wear. Or is over-priced. Or poorly made. Or conveys the wrong impression about status. Or is out of fashion. Or something one of your friends already has.
The jewelry you buy has to conform to quite a long list of essential criteria before you could ever think of buying it. It is something you will wear more than once. As such, it is your companion. Your necklace is not merely lying around your neck. Or your bracelet around your wrist. Or your earrings dangling from your ears. Jewelry can cause you to lose face with others. It can irritate or scratch your skin, or get caught up in your hair. It might weigh you down or stretch or tear your ear lobes. Jewelry can break without warning in the most unexpected and embarrassing of places. It can get caught on things, sometimes hurting you in the process.
Jewelry conveys to the world something about who you really are, or think you are. As such, jewelry is very personal. Your private, innermost, most soul searching choices made very public for all to see. As you caress it, as you touch the smooth or faceted or crevice’d beads and metal parts or the clasp or the material the beads are strung on, when you twist and move the piece within your hand, you are confirming to yourself the extent to which your jewelry is doing its job.
When you buy new jewelry, the dilemmas multiply. How will the new compare to the old? Will it be able to handle all these responsibilities — looking good, representing you, fitting in with your wardrobe, meeting the expectations of others? Like divorcing, then remarrying, changing your jewelry can take some time for readjustment. And you do not want to be seen as noncommittal to your jewelry. This would sort of be like going to a hotel, but not unpacking your suitcase while staying in the room.
Conveying some sort of social or psychological distance from your jewelry can be very unsettling for others. So you need to inhabit it. You need to inhabit your jewelry, wear it with conviction, pride and satisfaction. Be one with it. Inhabiting jewelry often comes with a price. There becomes so much pressure to buy the right pieces, given all the roles we demand our jewelry to play, that we too often stick with the same brands, the same colors, the same styles, the same silhouettes.
We get stuck in this rut and are afraid to step out of it. Or we wear too many pieces of jewelry. The long earrings, plus the cuff bracelets on both arms, plus the head band, plus the hair ornament, plus the 7-strand necklace, plus the 5 rings. We are ever uncertain which piece or pieces will succeed at what, so hopefully, at least some combination or subset of what we wear will work out.
In a similar way, we wear over-embellished pieces — lots of charms, lots of dangles, lots of fringe, lots of strands. Something will surely be the right color, the right fit and proportion, the right fashion, the right power statement, the right reflection of me.
And our need to inhabit our jewelry comes with one more price. We are too willing to overpay for poorly made pieces in our desperation to have that right look. The $100.00 of beads strung on elastic string. The poorly dyed stones which fade in the light. The poorly crimped and overly stiff pieces with little ease for accommodating movement and frequent wear. It is OK to inhabit our jewelry. In fact, it is necessary, given all we want jewelry to do for us. But we need to be smart about it. We need to learn to recognize better designs and better designers.
This need not be expensive at all.
Every jewelry designer should expect that many fashion preferences and desires will change over time, sometimes very quickly. Consumers can be fickle. They can get bored with the old. They search out new novelties all the time. They try to keep up with trends and fads. As the economy moves up and down, so too do consumer abilities to purchase at a particular price.
New materials come out on the market. So do new techniques and technologies. Clothing and hair styles change silhouettes. Seasons change. The climate is changing. Popular culture changes. Social media goes in a different direction. Global trading opportunities change. Corporations come up with a catchy marketing campaign.
In contemporary culture, it also has become more okay for individual to develop their own sense of style and fashion.
THE DANGER OF HOMOGENATION
If fashion, style and taste lead to everyone wearing and buying similar things, we begin to lose the need for the jewelry designer. The designer becomes more a technician. The task of design becomes more mechanical, step-by-step, ritualized. More a the design process can be taken over by machines.
It is incumbent upon the designer to not lose sight of the essence underlying jewelry design. At its core, this is to create pieces which translate the designer’s inspirations in ways which resonate with others to be similarly inspired. Jewelry design is a communicative collaboration of sorts between designer and client. This will always lead to a wealth of variety and variation never diminished by fashion, style or taste.
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Noro, A. 1991. Muoto, moderniteetti ja ‘kolmas’. Tutkielma Georg Simmelin sosiologiasta (Form, Modernity and the ‘Third’. A Study of Georg Simmel’s Sociology). Jyvaskyla: Tutkijaliitto.
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Wikipedia. “Aesthetics”. As referenced in:
Wikipedia. “Taste”. As referenced in:
Thank you. I hope you found this article useful.
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