The 1 Accessory Coco Chanel Never Left Home Without

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I'm not sure when my earring tree started to collect dust. I'd been obsessed with buying vintage pieces for most of my life, and the jewelry counter was always my last stop before checking out at the thrift store. But then, about two years ago, I moved out of New York. It was right around the time when dainty pendant necklaces were all anyone wanted. Style bloggers layered up to five at a time, and if the look was complete with earrings, they were small, sharp, geometric studs. Slowly, I stopped wearing my colorful baubles and stuck to posts I never had to take off. When I look back, the jewelry trend appeared delicate, but felt lazy.

Recently, I started searching for photos of French fashion designer Gabrielle Chanel. While people typically notice her embellished hats, smart tweed suits, or thoughtfully draped necklaces, I stare straight at her pearl earrings. Gabrielle (or Coco, as most called her), brought costume jewelry to life in 1930. She believed that everyone should have options for accessorizing and famously said, "A woman needs ropes and ropes of pearls." While Coco decorated herself with everything from gemstones to vibrant beads, it was always pearl studs for her ears, some sets larger than others. In 1926, she was even recognized for wearing a black pearl in one ear and a white one in the other.

Since I've always loved the look of pearls (fact: I want a black pearl engagement ring), I've begun my earring search once again. This time, though, I'm looking for something specific. Instead of accessorizing tunic dresses with chunky, oversize earrings that could double as pop art, I'm retiring my '60s phase. I want to emit elegance — a round stone that appears when everyone's least expecting it, like when I pull my hair up or tuck a strand behind my ear. While the look is decidedly feminine, I imagine balancing it with a dark turtleneck, moto jacket and boots, and two-tone jeans this Fall. Maybe that's not how Coco would have done it. After all, her full looks were graceful and sophisticated from her head to her toes. But Coco also said, "A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous." I know the decision to bring pearl earrings into my life is quite classy, but how I make them my own, well, that will be fabulous.

Read on to see how Coco wore her pearl earrings throughout the ages, then shop a few of the styles I've been eyeing. While there are vintage Chanel clip-on studs and ornate two-tone pieces included, there are also modern updates you might like, complete with hoops, tassels, and even crystalized swans.

Everett Collection

Coco Chanel, wearing pearl drop earrings with an embellished cap and fur coat in 1932.


Coco Chanel posing for a photo in Paris, 1944.


Coco Chanel in a tweed suit and pearl earrings after presenting her Spring collection in Paris, 1958.