Everything About Ear Piercings: Types of Ear Piercings, History & More
For some reason, ear piercings have been part of human culture for thousands of years, and the practice of piercing ears has developed independently across different societies that had no contact with each other. In this article I go through everything you need to know (and maybe didn’t even know you did) about ear piercings, from the history and types of ear piercings, to important safety information and style dos and don’ts.
I was 22 when I finally had my ears pierced. This is pretty rare- most women have their ears pierced when they’re preteens, or even when they’re babies. When you totally remove yourself from the cultural necessity of earrings, the idea becomes odd. We… make holes in our ears? We put metal through them? Imagine being an alien, and trying to understand ear piercings. Imagine trying to explain this to an alien!
Nowadays, in the United States, around 83% of all people (both men and women) have had at least one of their ears pierced at some point in their life, and this number is likely only rising, as more men opt for pierced ears.
Below, you’ll learn all the details about ear piercings you should know. I’ve also compiled some of the most beautiful earrings available on the market right now, for once you do get those ear piercings done!
History of Ear Piercings
Ear piercings are one of the oldest forms of body modification, likely because the ear lobe is easy to pierce through, and the healing is fairly speedy. In 1991 the surprisingly well-preserved body of a man who lived approximately 5000 years ago was discovered in the mountains in the border between Austria and Italy.
This “mummy’, that was named Otzi, had his ears not just pierced, but also gauged (or “stretched”). This is the earliest proof we have of ear piercings, but it’s likely we have been piercing ears for much longer than the past 5000 years.
A few other famous ancient examples of ear piercings include: the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun’s death mask (as well as other mummies’ death masks), the Old Testaments are filled with mentions of people of both genders wearing earrings, and depictions of the Hindu gods also show them covered in jewelry, including earrings.
Mentions of earrings in Western Europe began in the late 16th century, during the English Renaissance. They were worn especially by men who spent their time in the royal court. Amongst sailors, wearing a single earring became popular, to represent their time sailing the world. Later on, in the West, earrings went on to be popularly worn by pretty much everyone.
At some point in the late 1800s, for unclear reasons, ear piercings had fallen out of style, and clip-ons became the standard ear jewelry choice for women. By this point, men in the US and Europe, for the most part, no longer wore decorations in their ears.
For about 70 years, while many women did still wear clip-ons, actual ear piercings had become a marker for foreignness and low birth, especially in the United States.
Then, in the 1950s, likely due to the post war boom, women started focusing on their appearance again, and ear piercings made a huge comeback. Teen girls, up until the ’70s, even, would have ear piercing parties, where they would numb each others’ ears with ice and use needles to make holes. At some point at this time, as ear piercings gained popularity, doctors started performing the piercing procedure, since parents wanted a sterile environment.
However, the conservative environment at many schools led to the banning of the wearing of earrings, although that might have been due to their association with adulthood. Whereas in many cultures all throughout the world, girls would have their ears pierced not long after birth, in the United States so called “bad girls’ would have to do it in secret.
This was a contentious enough topic that it even came up with Hillary Clinton, regarding her daughter, when her husband was campaigning for the presidency. At the time, Hillary Clinton did not yet have her ears pierced (although nowadays we are pretty sure that she does).
It was only in the ’80s that the mall kiosks we know so well started popping up, as well, becoming the go-to place for most people to get their piercings done, but it was until the mid-90s that the taboo of ear piercings mostly disappeared.
Types of Ear Piercings
1. Lobe Piercing
This is the classic – simple holes in the lobes, from which you can wear anything from a tiny stud to big chandelier style jewels. There are a ton of different earring styles to choose from, and no one will ever bat an eye.
2. Double and Triple Lobe Piercing
These are equally as safe as regular lobe ear piercings, but they lend a bit of a punk edge to your lobe. Most people can’t fit more than three piercings on their lobe, before having to move up to the cartilage.
Double piercings are widely accepted nowadays, although some schools and workplaces still don’t accept them. Most commonly you will see studs or small hoops in the second and third holes.
Ear gauging is a unique take on lobe ear piercings – you progressively increase the size of your piercing by wearing increasingly thicker earrings. Just avoid going super thick, or you risk splitting your ear lobe.
Ear gauging has been done by different cultures for thousands of years, but nowadays it is most closely associated with alternative subcultures in Europe and the US, and some tribes from central and eastern Africa.
4. Helix (a.k.a. Cartilage) Piercing
After lobe piercings, these are the most popular. Most popularly done on the top part of the ear, they take longer to heal, but look really fun and a little Rock & Roll. A row of helix piercings, along with a row of lobe piercings can have a really beautiful flow.
5. Industrial Piercing
An industrial piercing refers to the metal barbell that goes through two parts of the ear’s cartilage – also normally done at the top of the ear.