At this season’s fashion shows and red-carpet events, one accessory has been a standout favourite: a classic jewelled brooch worn on a lapel or breast. Perhaps more surprising is the way these designs, typically associated with Grandma’s jewellery box, have been particularly championed by men.
Actor Paul Mescal wore a vintage Cartier pin to the Baftas. Actor and director Michael B Jordan wore rare Tiffany bird brooches to the Oscar ceremony last week. The Oscar winners for best actor and best supporting actor, Brendan Fraser and Ke Huy Quan, both wore diamond brooches to collect their awards, while RRR star Ram Charan wore a lapel full of decorations that looked like medals.
“Male celebrities wearing brooches on the red carpet, particularly designs which read as more feminine, have a mildly transgressive feel, but they are really rediscovering a lost fashion,” said jewellery historian Rachel Church, author of Brooches and Badges. “Before the invention of buttons, pins and brooches were essential to hold fabric together. They were often marks of status as well as useful objects. The fashion turned by the late 19th century, though, and by the later 20th century most men wore hardly any jewellery.”
Now men in general – and not just celebrities – are discovering the delights of ornate accessories.
“Jewellery has grown in prominence in menswear over the past few years, starting with signet rings and simple chains, thanks largely to Connell in Normal People,” says Charlie Teasdale, style director of Esquire magazine, referring to the hit BBC drama. “Now we’re at a place where it’s much more acceptable for men to be wearing elaborate, precious jewellery on a daily basis.”
This season it looks as if brooches will only grow in popularity, as they were spotted in the men’s and women’s fashion shows in February. Gucci showed pearl strings with diamond clasps, Louis Vuitton created tiny musical-instrument pins and Grace Wales Bonner’s menswear collection included exquisite pearl and Ghanaian bead creations. Rihanna wore three diamond brooches when she performed at the Super Bowl in February – another sure sign that the brooch is back.
Shoppers are on the lookout for them too. Luxury resale platform the RealReal reported that demand for brooches was up 27% at the end of 2022. Over on TikTok, the hashtag “brooch” has had more than 104m views.
“Brooches are a great jewel for sending a message,” says Church. “They’re usually worn somewhere near eye level, have a pictorial surface and can be made in large sizes. They seem quite respectable, even staid, but can be used to send a subtle signal.”
Some celebrities use the jewellery for symbolic significance – Ke Huy Quan wore a fan brooch on the red carpet in honour of his Asian heritage, and Ram Charan’s brooches at the Oscars represented military medals and chakras, a nod to his role as a revolutionary.
Politicians have revived the power of the brooch recently. Historically, they wore brooches to signal allegiance – the forerunner of the political pin badge. American politician Madeleine Albright made an art of it. Lady Hale’s spider brooch hit the headlines in 2019 when she chose to wear the web-weaving insect to deliver the verdict on Boris Johnson’s decision to prorogue parliament.
Political brooches are also having a renaissance in the House of Representatives, with Republicans such as George Santos wearing assault rifles on their lapels to show commitment to the right to bear arms. At Joe Biden’s state of the nation address in February, politicians arrived wearing everything from crayons and abortion pins to Ukrainian flags.
In British politics, Suella Braverman is a huge fan of a brooch. This month she wore a diamond tree – traditionally a symbol of life and growth – to deliver her Commons speech on small boats.
“It’s interesting that brooches are coming back into fashion,” says Church. “They’re very accessible: they don’t need to be sized, you don’t have to pierce your ears and you can wear them with any sort of clothing.
“I think those of us who remember their grandparents wearing brooches don’t find them appealing, but the next generation is ready to discover them.”