“I want a girl with extensions in her hair. Bamboo earrings. At least two pair.” – LL Cool J
Door Knocker (Bamboo) earrings: Bold, statement-making, usually metallic gold earrings shaped liked door knockers, popularized in the mid to late 1980s.
The earrings had been around forever before they became a trend. In the 80s they were sold in beauty supply stores for less than $5 a pop, and were brought to life by women of color who wore them around town. Door knockers went mainstream trend, though, when female hip hop stars like Salt-n-Pepa, MC Lyte, and Roxanne Shante stepped into the spotlight and rocked them hard, wearing them everywhere from red carpets to their music videos.
Before that, women of color were wearing hoop earrings in the 1960s and 1970s, which “became associated with African beauty,” Vogue Editor at Large Andre Leon Talley said, according to The New York Times.
“Hoop earrings originated in Africa, dating back to Nubia, a civilization that existed in the fourth century in what is now present day Sudan,” Associate Curator of Egyptian art at the Brooklyn Museum Yekaterina Barbash told the publication as well, who added that ancient Egyptians wore them as well.
For Egyptians, “earrings were seen as something that enhanced one’s beauty and sexuality,” Barbash continued, adding that men and women – including queens and pharohs – wore hoop earrings for style.
In the 80s, the thick eye-catching earrings became such a thing nationwide that they also popped up in LL Cool J’s hit 1990 song “Around the Way Girl”, in which he rapped about wanting a girl with at least two pairs of door knocker earrings in her arsenal.
Even then though, door knockers and hoops were more than just a flippant accessory – they were a symbol of connection to black and latino culture – and they never fully disappeared. “Bamboo hoop earrings, various “door-knocker” styles, and other thick gold hoops will always be remembered for their rich history with roots from culture and music,” blogger and designer Kelli Shami wrote. “For many, they are a symbol of resistance, and for many others, they are a celebration of ethnicity.”
Part of that resistance was wearing an accessory that was deemed “gaudy” or “hood” prior to the popularity of it in the fashion world and still having the power to be taken seriously. And it wasn’t just door knockers…it was hoops in general.
“Communities of color have always embraced [hoop earrings], but with an understanding that outside of the comforts of our communities and families, they are seen differently, in a negative light.” Former Teen Vogue social media editor Callia A. Hargrove, who was raised in New York, told Refinery29. “Knowing that, wearing hoops in those settings almost feels like a form of activism.”
Dr. Ariana Curtis, Museum Curator of Latinx Studies at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Smithsonian Institution, dished on just that during her Ted Talk at TEDWomen 2018.
“Representation matters. Authentic representations of women matter,” the self-proclaimed lover of hoop earrings said as she talked about the lack of representation and inclusion in museums, and her own experience as a Afro-Latina woman working in that field. “As an Afro-Latina, I’m one of millions. As an Afro-Latina curator, I’m one of very few. And bringing my whole self into the professional realm can feel like an act of bravery.”
“For a long time, I denied myself the joy of wearing my beloved hoop earrings or nameplate necklace to work, thinking that they were too loud or unscholarly or unprofessional,” she continued. “Anyone who has felt outside of mainstream representations understands that there are basic elements just of our everyday being that can make other people uncomfortable. But because I am passionate about the everyday representation of women as we are, I stopped presenting an inauthentic representation of myself or my work. And I have been tested. This is me pointing at my hoop earring in my office,” she said as she pointed to a photo of herself doing just that.
Dr. Curtis also talked about the importance of putting culturally significant images of women of color like Celia Cruz on display in museums and beyond. Cruz is “a dark skinned Latina, a Black woman, whose hair is in large rollers which straighten your hair, perhaps a nod to white beauty standards. A refined, glamorous woman in oversized, chunky gold jewelry,” she said. “When this work was on view, it was one of our most Instagrammed pieces, and visitors told me they connected with the everyday elements of her brown skin or her rollers or her jewelry.”
“Museums can literally change how hundreds of millions of people see women and which women they see,” she continued. “It’s [our] responsibility to show a regular Saturday at the beauty salon, the art of door-knocker earrings, fashionable sisterhood and cultural pride at all ages.”
In the 30 plus years since door knocker earrings came to the forefront, the trend has continued to resurface, with women of color steadily sporting the look. But nearly every time it has, there’s been accusations of cultural appropriation attached to its resurgence, specifically when white celebs rock the trend and/or white fashion designers push it back to the forefront as if they started it themselves.
Taylor Swift, for example, raised eyebrows when she showed up in her “Shake It Off” music video in 2014 wearing gold bamboo hoop earrings, denim cut offs, knee pads and a cropped leather bomber jacket. That and her attempts to twerk and breakdance in the video led many across the Twitterverse to slam her for perpetuating black stereotypes.
“Swift tried to wine and twerk her derrière while encouraging listeners to “shake it off,” “‘Cause the players gonna play… And the haters gonna hate.” Her look was very similar to that of Salt-N-Pepa’s for classic videos like “Shoop” and “Push It,” Buzzfeed writer Essence Gant wrote.
Swift isn’t the only one who has caught flack for appropriating the culture with a pair of door knocker earrings on her ears. The Kardashian-Jenner clan, Kreayshawn, and others have also received criticism for doing the same.
Among designers and retailers, Urban Outfitters also was at the root of criticism when they started selling door knocker bamboo earrings for $16 a pop a couple of years ago, according to Buzzfeed. Meanwhile, Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci received praise from the fashion industry when he presented his fall 2015 “chola Victorian” collection, which included interpretations of door-knockers.
Sex and the City costume designer Patricia Field also sparked the fad in 2001 among the show’s “predominately white, affluent” viewers, when she put a pair of nameplate door knocker earrings on fashionista Carrie Bradshaw in 2001, “transposing the door-knocker cultural value into fashion novelty,” according to Medium.
When it comes to fashion, cultural appropriation is nothing new. It has happened for years, and it will continue to. But it’s important to give credit where it’s due when a trend returns. Door knocker and hoop earrings originated in communities of color. They are still a tribute to the culture.
We started this.