Why more people are opting for a piercing in middle age
A slew of luxury piercings are popping up in some of the hippest department stores – the latest popping up today at the cutting-edge boutique in Cork, Samui – and, it seems, its cohort fastest growing is that of middle-aged women. Over the past decade women have fought for and reclaimed their bodily autonomy and the organized ear is one more step in that direction. As piercing has finally become integrated into mainstream culture, it has had to shed centuries of loaded associations, some of them not so savory.
The history of holemaking isn’t just rooted in aesthetics; in some cases piercing was performed for ritual reasons, as a rite of passage or to exercise control over the subject’s body. In ancient Rome, nipple piercings signified virility while penis piercings were believed to deter slaves from childbearing and enhance the performance of athletes. The Gajan or Shivagajan festival in West Bengal revolves around body piercings restricted to males which are suspended from iron rods. The reason? To connect with Hindu deities like Shiva and pray for their cultures to flourish.
Having more than one piercing in the 80s and 90s in Ireland was a violation of most schools’ uniform codes. Considering this was the era that popularized plastic mannequins, street-sweeping drawstring jeans, and stackable silicone wristbands, this didn’t really stand out as a beacon of taste. For some unknown reason, it was a heinous offense to display more than one pair of earrings, but covering them with a small bandage was perfectly acceptable. Eyebrows, tongues, nose and “The Madonna” (a piercing on the right side, above the upper lip – to look like a mole) were the most coveted places to be pierced. There was always an element of rebellion attached to getting drilled, albeit on Claire’s high stool, with your best friend holding your hand, while you breathe deeply and brace yourself for the biggest anti-climax of your teenage life.
The piercing scene has seen something of a renaissance thanks to irrevocably chic tastemakers like actress Zoe Kravitz and fashion designer Pip Edwards, flaunting their carefully curated ears on Instagram and Pinterest. Piercers like Maria Tash and Brian Keith Thompson have become almost celebrities in their own right, amassing hundreds of thousands of followers on their respective social media accounts.
Danish-Irish designer Maria Black has been creating fine jewelry since 2010 and in that short time she has seen a huge evolution in her brand. She wanted to shake things up in how she portrayed people wearing jewelry and move away from Eurocentric heteronormative ideals where white women and men stayed in their own boxes and adhered to a “very strict formula”.
“Women’s jewelry would be full of trinkets — feminine — and men’s jewelry would literally be a car part. If you were going to wear jewelry as a man, you better wear jewelry from the steering wheel of a Ferrari to cement the fact that you’re a man.
When Black realized that men also wore her brand, she decided to create a men’s collection but immediately fell into the old-fashioned way, out of sheer instinct. She describes this gender capsule as “the ugliest collection I’ve ever designed.”
Black wanted to shake things up in how she portrayed her brand and show people of different genders, ethnicities and sexualities in her campaign images. She believes traditional advertising can perpetuate stereotypes and she was determined not to.
So what about the idea that having an organized ear is akin to a midlife crisis? Although she’s had clients in her dedicated piercing parlor from seven to 90, she sees a lot of women in their 40s and she thinks piercing isn’t associated with an age barrier anymore than it might have been. have for previous generations.
In 2019, the Samui boutique, one of Black’s stockists, organized a piercing event in collaboration with the designer with great success. Clodagh Shorten has run the Cork-based clothing and lifestyle store for 21+ years. Arbiter of taste, Shorten meets me dressed in a smiley graphic tee, jeans, a black Sacai duster and Rick Owens tractor boots. At the forefront of many fashion trends, she is a regular on the Paris catwalks and is the sole Irish custodian of Maria Black’s fine jewellery.
Shorten can identify her target audience with a fine-toothed comb and knows that events like this are exactly what the discerning client wants. So who exactly is this customer? She’s a working woman, she’s confident, she has control over what she wears and she does it all in diamonds, says Shorten. The success of Shorten’s latest pop-up inspired her to follow a similar path for the store’s 21st anniversary. Christine Quinn of Selling Sunset can do Burgers and Botox but Clodagh Shorten does Bubbles and Diamonds.
Existing Shorten clients are signing up for the event which is taking place today with highly regarded Northern Irish piercer, Ash Boyd. The piercing isn’t just an iteration of style, says Shorten, it’s a way to celebrate your accomplishments and mark an occasion. Samui e-commerce manager Katharin Lucey celebrated her first-ever marathon with a Maria Black diamond piercing and she describes the exhilaration she felt doing something for herself. It’s empowered women like Lucey who look after themselves, says Shorten, and they certainly don’t see age as a barrier.
“Our women are confident, active women who know what they’re thinking. They dress for themselves. They are good about themselves. They know what they want. They like the idea of well-known labels and innovative brands and mixing everything together.
Conscious consumerism runs through the Black brand’s DNA and it recently decided to stock only lab-grown diamonds. The diamond industry is very hard to trace, she says, and it’s not something she could stand anymore. This thoughtful consumption goes hand in hand with the middle-aged customer, she says, who is informed and aware of their choices and wants to make decisions that align with their values.
“The way we look at jewelry is changing. Costume jewelry is fun but in the world we live in now, we really need to start thinking about what we buy in terms of longevity and quality. If you’re over a certain age, it’s not cool at all to buy an outfit that you’re going to throw away the next day. As we age, we now realize that we all have a responsibility.
The women she meets in her piercing parlor come to get pierced to celebrate a milestone, to feel the adrenaline rush or simply to show off her style, she says.
“It’s a lot less about rebellion and more about self-expression. You can call it a midlife crisis if you want. I think it’s a way of expressing yourself during the transition.
So what exactly does Black’s piercing parlor offer?
“Basically any part of the ear except the curved labret,” she says, which is the bar usually placed in the cartilage of the ear. Popular piercings among middle-aged women are on the lobe, helix, daith, conch, and tragus.
While Black says it “seems silly to talk about vanity” but the piercing “really does something for yourself”.
As a reminder, it’s much less permanent than a tattoo but often just as memorable. While Black thinks piercing in the 70s was more of a “subculture,” she says it’s now available to everyone and has universal appeal.
In Samui, Clodagh Shorten notices a change in attitude among his customers.
She sees a lot more women embracing an evil philosophy, taking more risks with their style and being “more open to suggestions.”
Both Shorten and Black admit that a diamond was something that was traditionally given to women, whereas nowadays women buy them for themselves. It’s an experience, really, says Black, and lots of clients enjoy coming in to get the same piercing as everyone else, fathers and daughters, friends, grandmothers and grandchildren. Black brought her mother to get pierced, an experience she describes as “very sweet” and “come full circle”. Shorten’s and my caffeinated drinks almost wore off. We briefly discuss the distressed Balenciaga runners who have divided fashion mavens around the world. I think it’s an Emperor’s New Clothes style situation – people can’t like them, can they?
Shorten is much more diplomatic, but she is certain of one thing – style, whether in a neat, diamond or pearl filled ear or the way you dress – is not limited by age. . While I have a year left before turning forty, I haughtily accept.
The Samui store in Drawbridge Street, Cork celebrates 21 years in business today with a Bubbles and Diamonds event. Call ahead to book a piercing appointment.