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Why Wear a Word?

In any city, the merging of words with clothing or jewelry is ubiquitous. Walk anywhere in New York to London to Paris, and you’ll see a bevy of It girls strolling around with charms dangling from their wrists or gilded initials strewn across their necks — or a statement on their shirt. Wearing a word, a letter or phrase is the ultimate — most direct — and sometimes even beloved form of sartorial expression. Whether it is a bold allegiance to a brand, a political message scrawled across the chest, or even a heart-felt ode to someone special engraved on a ring, the physical piece of clothing or a piece of jewelry becomes a vehicle for articulation.

This concept of saying something with individual style is the most poignant within the world of jewelry and dates back to ancient times. Now in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, one Egyptian ring harkening back to the BC era, shows engravings of gods and hieroglyphics, transforming from a metal into a talisman that delivers protection or faith to the wearer. Thousands of years later, the concept of engraving and signet rings became popular during the Victorian era. (So did other extremely heartfelt odes, such as mourning jewelry, which included a loved one’s hair threaded into pieces.) During this time, jewelry developed into an expression of affection or love, both a personal — and perpetual — keepsake thanks to engraving a message or a name into the piece of jewelry.

Collage of historical jewellery

In the most basic sense, words on whatever we are wearing, from a T-shirt to a signet ring, show allegiance to something. That dedication can be as simple as a brand, too. Look to the height of logomania during the maximalist early and mid-‘00s. Who can forget the ubiquitous Christian Dior “J’adore Dior” shirt, made even more popular by the likes of Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City? The same goes for the likes of Moschino and Dsquared2 who have long emblazoned their names on shirts, as well as Gucci and Louis Vuitton who translate their House lettering into eye-catching monograms. Whenever someone wears a statement, even if that statement is a label, it positions them in an “if you know, you know” community.

While there is the brand route, words on clothing can also have a layered meaning, specifically for those looking to promote a cause. Look to the 1980’s and Katharine Hamnett. The designer met Margaret Thatcher wearing a long t-shirt dress with a bold-printed phrase that read “58% DON'T WANT PERSHING”, a reflection of the polls that showed British opposition against the United States stationing nuclear warheads on United Kingdom territory. This bold display of wearing a belief, literally on one’s chest, became a signature for Hamnett, who went on to produce shirts that read “Choose Life” to “Save the Rainforest”.

Collage of slogan and logo tee-shirts

Fast forward over two decades, following the election of former President Donald Trump in 2016, we saw many begin to wear causes and slogans on their sleeves. Emily Ratajkowski stepped out in a T-shirt by Prabal Gurung that read “Feminist AF” from the designer’s fall 2017 collection. The same goes for Dior under the helm of Maria Grazia Chiuri. For Spring 2017, her debut collection at the Maison, she sent a simple slogan T-shirt read “We Should All Be Feminists” paired with an intricately embroidered tulle skirt down the runway. This poignant line was derived from the author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's feminist text.

In modern times, like clothing, we’ve seen the concept of jewelry translate into bolder expressions. No longer is a message on a ring or a necklace simply for the wearer but to others. There is the nameplate that has long held a cherished significance within Black and Latino as well as other immigrant communities. The necklace doesn’t simply spell out a “name” but rather is a coming of age signifier that also acts as a way to emphasize identity within society. It is also a celebration of the wearer’s origins and heritage, and in some cases, reclaiming one's history. Here, a nameplate necklace is a karat-packed assertion of identity.

Collage of modern jewellery

Of course, there are religious symbols, from a cross to a Star of David. In some cases, these spiritual insignia are customized to fit the owner’s culture or home country. For example, a Jewish person from a Middle Eastern or North African country will infuse the Hamsa amulet, a hand, with their Star of David, while a Jewish person from an Eastern European country will wear a plain iteration. Whatever the choice, even these intricate remixes of a traditional symbol, which can appear minor, are actually a person’s way to claim their heritage. Additionally, this same sort of concept of “spelling it out” trickles down into other forms of sentimental-chic jewelry. Think charms, which are now layered and collected at the decolletage or an initial stamped onto a pinky ring.

However one chooses to wear a word, there’s nothing chicer — and more meaningful — than having the option to create a message with jewelry. In the Carolina Bucci-verse, the Color Field Bracelet, named for the art movement of abstract expressionism, marks a new era in sending a message courtesy of glint and glimmer. The piece is not only an elegant disco ball for the wrist but the wearer can customize the swathe of sparkle with the words of their choice, whether it be a name or, statement or colorful abstraction. Consider this bracelet one’s very own — and very precious —canvas.