Why did the hipster burn their tongue? Because they ate their food before it was cool, of course. These days, it’s rare to hear even the hippest of hipsters brag about liking something before the masses — it’s become way too much of a stereotype — but the general idea still stands. Nobody wants to hear about how you discovered their favorite band/Netflix show/vegan eatery/obscure Australian fashion label before they did. So forgive me for a moment while I go full Williamsburg-dwelling, Buddy Holly glasses-sporting barista: my friends and I rocked the mismatched earrings trend way before it was a thing. But not necessarily because we thought it looked cool, though it did and still does. Our predilection for the asymmetrical style was due mostly to the fact that we were college students, and thus regularly too broke, exhausted, disorganized, and/or intoxicated to keep a set of earrings together. Rather than abandon a perfectly good earring after its mate was, say, crushed under the weight of a frat boy’s foot after falling out during a particularly raucous game of beer pong, or quietly dislodged from an unsuspecting earlobe during a late-night library catnap, our solution was simply to find it a new friend. And aren’t diverse friendships always the most interesting friendships?
Over the past few seasons, we’ve seen both mismatched earrings and single earrings — equally great solutions to the problem of a misplaced ear bauble, by the way — on the runway at Dior, Loewe, Celine, Simone Rocha, Nina Ricci, Proenza Schouler, J.W. Anderson, and Marni, to mention a few. Vogue first noticed the trend following the FW 2016 shows, while InStyle gave a tutorial on how to rock it for spring of the same year. I wrote about it after seeing Ground Zero’s crafty riff on the trend at VFILES in February. And while I’m sure drunk college girls everywhere are relieved that they can now sport a gold bamboo hoop alongside a beaded chandelier without getting too much flak, I’m interested in what happens when you read into the trend. As in, are asymmetrical earrings fashion’s way of heralding that it’s finally okay for women to not have their shit together?
While pop culture has been pointing us toward this conclusion for a while, thanks largely to unabashedly messy women like Amy Schumer, Jennifer Lawrence, Tina Fey, and Kristen Wiig, the world of high fashion has always leaned a bit more, shall we say, aspirational. While some designers have been open about their aspirations to create clothes for the “everywoman,” most eschew such populism in favor of more traditional muses like models, actresses, wealthy international It girls, and, I don’t know, the most intimidatingly beautiful, put together woman you’ve ever seen IRL. So, people unlikely to have a hard time keeping track of accessories and even more unlikely to have trouble acquiring new ones. But if brands like Dior and Celine are even tacitly acknowledging the fact that, for many of us, keeping a matching set of earrings in tact for any significant amount of time is no easy feat, then perhaps the fashion world is finally on its way to embracing the less-than-perfect reality most women reside in. At least when it comes to accessories.
Sure, one could also argue that designers aren’t hopping aboard the asymmetrical ear train out of sympathy for women with hectic lives and slippery lobes, but rather because they like the way it looks. And, again, wearing two different earrings looks awesome — like a cross between a cool, Ms. Frizzle-esque elementary school art teacher and a wealthy, glamorous octogenarian in possession of too many jewels to keep them all straight. But regardless of why designers have jumped on the trend, it’s worth remembering that fashion has a way of both influencing and being influenced by the times. Trends like the mini skirt, the bikini, and the shoulder pad at one time signaled a change in the way women saw themselves and how they interacted with the world. And while mismatched earrings probably won’t be our era’s most memorable trend, they’ve been ubiquitous over several seasons among a diverse array of important brands, which means they have both wide appeal and staying power.
Perhaps this is because the look jives so well not just with the lifestyle but also the philosophy practiced by many young women today — that strange cross between feminism and nihilism with a Dionysian flair for the fun but ultimately self-destructive — in which women can be and do whatever they damn well please, even if that’s an underemployed, emotionally stunted woman-child who owns exactly 18 single earrings and no jewelry box. Our forebears fought long and hard for us to be treated as equals, a fight that usually meant acting, looking, and generally being better than the men in the room in order to be — at very best — treated the same. But those days are over. It’s no longer about striving for equality in shoulder pads and stilettos. It’s about demanding it, regardless of how messy and imperfect we may be (and look).
Consider some of the other major fashion trends of the past few years: athleisure, streetwear, ugly footwear, unisex styles, even Gucci’s luxe mishmash of patterns. All of these are looks that subvert the societal expectations that say a woman should wear clothes that are flattering, pretty, easy for men to comprehend, and, of course, wildly uncomfortable. The fact that the most popular style statements no longer fit this mold prove that both the fashion industry and the women who bolster it have moved on. Indeed, we may be living in the heyday of not having your aesthetic shit together. So go ahead, roll out of bed, pull on a sweatsuit and some kicks, and, if you so choose, festoon your ears with two shiny, utterly unrelated tchotchkes, and take pleasure in the knowledge that this delightfully batshit look is as de rigueur as they come.