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Jewellery: Why Do We Wear It?

Posted on October 27 2016

We’ve been decorating ourselves through the ages. Animal teeth, bones, feathers, shells and reeds adorned the bodies of our ancestors, all the way to the royal and aristocratic jewels kept in museums today. We might expect that jewellery is used differently now, but even those gold-coloured studs on our pre-scuffed boots nod to a richer history.


Why do we decorate ourselves? In the 40’s, American psychologist Abraham Maslow came up with the ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ – a pyramid with a base of physiological factors followed by safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualisation at its very tip.

If we look at jewellery through Maslow’s lens, then the wearing of it would fall into our higher needs. For example, for ‘love and belonging’, jewellery may have been used to attract mates by way of showing wealth, or through wooing by giving gifts (Valentine’s day, we see you). It may also have been used – as it still is – to show affiliation with a certain group. Modern-day equivalents might be signets, engagement rings, or even those ‘best friend’ necklaces most of us have lying around somewhere.

Hierarchy of Needs - Sancho's Dress

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (

The ‘esteem’ category might reflect the fact that in the past, the richer you were, the more decorated you were, like the paintings of many monarchs show – but how about ‘self-actualisation’? Clearly, jewellery is still a form of self-expression. Whether it be a delicate chain or a choker, the things we choose to wear send a little message to those passing us by, and perhaps to ourselves, too.

Also a different story is society’s attitude towards men wearing jewellery. For the past 200-or-so years, jewellery has been a traditionally female domain. Now, more and more men are escaping the bounds of cufflinks and watches to dabble in bracelets, necklaces and other previously-thought ‘feminine’ things. Skull rings at £3,000 a pop (yes, really) have given designer Theo Fennell quite a name among some circles, while on a more imaginable level, chain-stores are now home to beaded bracelets, comfortably sitting in the men’s section.


Why the change? World-views are shifting, strict gender roles are melting and individualism is more celebrated (or more tolerated, at least). With these values, perhaps it’s a given that more people – Mr. T’s gold chains aside – feel they’re able to play around and give self-actualisation through decoration a go.

As Amy Cuddy explains in her fascinating TED talk, the way we pose affects not just the way others see us, but the way we see ourselves. To quote her, "our bodies can change our minds, and our minds can change our behaviour, and our behaviour can change our outcomes."

But how about the jewellery we decide to adorn ourselves with? How can the pieces we wear change the way we see ourselves, the way we feel? Personally, I have a necklace that a good friend gave me, and when I wear it, I love to peak at my reflection or feel the stone against my skin, reminding me of the warm intentions behind it. Wearing certain rings on my fingers makes me feel empowered, as I once decided that wearing them would do so. 


Dressing with purpose and wearing jewellery that echoes that can make us feel the type of confidence that comes from feeling truly yourself. This is a sentiment we hold dear at Sancho's Dress, each owning small pieces of jewellery which help us understand and actualize our best selves.  

Why do you wear jewellery? Do you have a piece that means something to you? Let us know below! xo - Sancho. 


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