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Brooches (pronounced broach) are among the oldest types of accessories and are still popular even today. While for many, brooches have acquired an ‘old-fashioned’ status, they can be worn and styled in cool, modern ways.
In fact, brooches are currently in fashion, as they offer an excellent way to complete your ensemble. With brooches showing up on the red carpet, on runways, we think it’s the perfect time to take a look at this timeless accessory.
Here’s a complete guide to buying and wearing a brooch.
What is a Brooch?
Unlike other types of jewelry, a brooch is a decorative accessory created to be attached to clothes rather than to your body. They were sometimes used as a way to fasten clothes together.
Most brooches are made of metal, and feature gemstones, enamel or intricate metalwork. They come in a variety of styles that define their period of origin. Popular designs for brooches include floral motifs, animals, insects and everyday objects.
Because a brooch is worn on your clothes, for many it’s much easier to style than jewelry. Also, if you don’t like the feel of jewelry on your body, but you still want to add a touch of sparkle to your look, then this might be your best option.
The Dos and Don’ts of Buying a Brooch
While nowadays anything goes when it comes to fashion, there are some general guidelines that come in handy when looking for a brooch:
- When looking for a brooch, pick a design and style you feel comfortable wearing and that matches your personal style. Don’t go for something that isn’t you. Chances are you’ll hardly ever wear it.
- Pick a brooch to match your clothes in terms of color and design rather than buying a brooch and then looking for clothes to match it with.
- Don’t be restricted by tradition. Wear the brooch anywhere on your clothes, shoes, handbag or hair… as you see fit. Just because it hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean you can’t be the first to try it out.
- A brooch can be a focal point of your outfit so choose it wisely as it will grab attention.
- Vintage brooches can always be sold and new ones bought. This keeps your collection fresh, unless you’re trying to collect them.
When to Wear a Brooch
In the past, brooches were typically worn at more formal events, but today there aren’t any hard and fast rules about when to wear brooches.
A well-chosen, understated brooch can be the perfect addition to your workwear, to give it some sparkle and color. Avoid large, garish brooches that would look out of place in the office.
For a night out with the girls or if you’re going to a party, a glittering, colorful brooch can add a pop of color and draw the eye to your brooch. It can be the focal point of your outfit.
Some like to wear brooches when out on a casual occasion. While this might seem dramatic, in fact, it can be fun and quirky. Pin a stylish brooch to your t-shirt or sweater. Just make sure that the pattern of the clothes isn’t too busy or hectic that the brooch gets lost amidst it. It’s best to pin a brooch onto a block color.
For a formal event, a statement brooch can be the perfect addition to your hairdo or clothes. It can add sparkle, luxury and sophistication and elevate your look.
Brooches vs. Pin
Sometimes, a brooch can function as a pin so what’s the difference between these two? The primary function of a pin is to fasten something together, typically clothes but it can also simply be ornamental.
An enamel pin featuring a sloth. See it here.
It’s the umbrella term or the general category for all brooches, lapel pins and similar decorative accessories. In other words, every brooch is a pin but not every pin is a brooch.
Popular Types of Brooches
There are many designs that brooches come in. Here are some popular types:
- Cameo Brooch – Cameos were especially popular in the 18th century and featured images of people, animals and flora carved into the material (commonly stone or shell).
- Fur or Dress Clips – These clips were extremely versatile, compared to traditional brooches, as most designs could be separated into two or attached to form a single pin.
- En Tremblant – These featured floral designs that was crafted to move when you wore them, or to ‘tremble’. This created a glittering effect especially under candlelight.
- Aigrette Brooches – These were worn in hair up dos, much like glittering hairpins. The shape of this type of brooch is similar to the plume of an egret (hence the name) and is typically set with gemstones to add sparkle and color to your hair.
- Animal Brooches – Animals have long been a source of interest when it comes to brooch designs. They can be extremely detailed and set with gemstones or stylized to look fun and quirky.
- Statement Brooches – If you have an opinion that you want to make known, a brooch can do exactly that for you. Whether you’re taking a political stand, fighting for animal rights or just telling everyone about your favorite hobbies, there’s a brooch or pin for that. You can also get it custom made.
How to Wear a Brooch
Brooches don’t have to be formal or conservative. They can be fun and stylish, perfectly complementing your overall look. Here are some ways to wear brooches today and stand out:
- Attach a brooch to your scarf, using it to hold your scarf together
- To the left or right side of your dress, shirt or blouse or on the neckline
- Attached to a stylish hat or a beanie
- Pinned to the waist of your skirt or attached to a pair of black pants for some sparkle
- Pinned to the lapel of your jacket or coat
- Pin it to a sweater for a swanky look
- Attach a brooch to your handbag, belt or clutch
- Wear brooches on each shoulder
- Use a brooch like a hair pin, in your hair
- Wear it with a chain like an unexpected pendant
- Wear several small brooches together, like lapel pins
- Attach a few matching brooches around your neckline
- Use a brooch to hold two ends together, like a cardigan
- On the lower back of a stylish dress
See these styles in action in this video:
Brooches Through the Ages – From Bronze Age to the 21st Century
While we tend to think of brooches as a type of jewelry, early brooches were more functional than artistic. Here’s a quick look at brooches through the ages:
- Ancient Times – Early brooches were nothing like what they are now. These were made of natural materials like flint and thorns and were purely for functional purposes.
- Bronze Age – Metal brooches made their appearance during the Bronze Age. Such brooches were durable and were frequently used to hold clothing together.
- Byzantine Era – Brooches started to look more artistic and decorative but were still highly utilitarian.
- Middle Ages – Prior to the Middle Ages, brooches were known as fibulas. Brooches were made in a variety of styles from different parts of the world, including the Celts, Vikings and Scandinavia who contributed to the overall progress of the brooch’s evolution. Brooches were typically worn by both sexes on an everyday basis for beauty as well as utility.
Celtic Brooch. Image from British Museum.
- 18th and 19th Centuries – During this time, brooches surged in popularity. Mourning brooches were worn to remember the dear departed. These were sometimes created to hold the hair of the loved one within it. Queen Victoria famously wore mourning brooches as she mourned the loss of her beloved Prince Albert for over 20 years.
Micro mosaic brooch of the Colosseum. See this brooch here.
Micromosaic brooches were an artistic take on the accessory. These featured landscapes and famous sites of popular places and were bought by travellers as souvenirs.
- 20th Century – During this century, brooches came to be seen mainly as decorative accessories worn by women. During the first half of the 20th century, dress and fur clips were all the rage. These were a modern spin on the brooch, typically featuring two symmetrical clips that could be attached together to form a single brooch-like accessory. The versatility and novelty of dress clips made them the most popular accessory of the time. After the 50s, the interest in these died down and traditional brooches came back into fashion.
- 21st Century – Brooches continue to be worn, although they’re seen as being conservative and traditional. However, many younger people are now finding new ways to wear brooches.
Where to Find Brooches
If you’re looking for vintage or modern brooches, it’s best to take your search online for the most options. Specialist estate jewelry stores should have a variety of costume and fine jewelry collections featuring brooches.
You can also take your search to Etsy, which has an excellent collection of brooches in a range of styles, quality and prices. Take some time to browse the collection, read reviews and check if the piece is authentic (if vintage) before you buy.