“In the 1960s and 1970s the hoop earring became associated with African beauty, when Nina Simone and Angela Davis started wearing the hoops,” Mr. Talley said. He made the point that Romani people also wore them.
Hoop earrings originated in Africa, dating back to Nubia, a civilization that existed in the fourth century in what is now present day Sudan, according to Yekaterina Barbash, associate curator of Egyptian art at the Brooklyn Museum. In ancient Egypt, both men and women wore hoop earrings. Egyptian royalty including queens and pharaohs like Nefertiti, Hatshepsut, Tutankhamen and Cleopatra wore gold hoops but it was more for style than for any other purpose.
For Egyptians, “earrings were seen as something that enhanced one’s beauty and sexuality,” said Ms. Barbash.
Egyptians that were not royalty were also buried wearing their hoop earrings, to enhance their beauty and appeal in their afterlife.
Jewelry designers today still pull from this idea. Jameel Mohammed is inspired by the influence of the African diaspora and designs with that in mind for his line, KHIRY.
According to Mr. Mohammed, it is harder to find a black model walking a couture fashion show than it is to find black style influences in fashion.
“Black style has to be contextualized differently in order to be seen as luxurious,” he said. “That is the fashion industry’s model of approaching nonwhite culture or things that are associated with nonwhite people.”
For Tracy Reese, one of Michelle Obama’s favorite designers, wearing hoop earrings has always been about personality, rather than racial identity.
“It is a bolder statement when I wear hoops,” she said. “I think it is more the size that says something different. Bigger hoop earrings could mean that a woman’s look is “more bohemian, more political,” she said. Tiny hoops, she reasoned, are more conservative.
When Ms. Reese was growing out her natural hair this past spring, she opted for bigger hoops to draw attention to her nape area.
“I think hoops usually get lost in big hair, big curls, with short hair they pop,” she said.
Last year, after I’d gone 12 years without wearing a pair of hoop earrings, a friend of mine casually mentioned she was going to buy a pair. It made me think about why I hadn’t worn mine. I nabbed a thin pair on sale at Ann Taylor Loft. They were delicate, small, not too showy.
The earrings quickly became a staple of my style. I owned trendy jacket earrings, studs, a flashy chandelier pair I bought in Mumbai, but once the hoops arrived the other earrings were relegated to my jewelry box.
When I gave up hoops, I was shedding. I didn’t want to hide my identity, but I didn’t want to wear it on my sleeve either. Earrings were easier to remove than my last name, my accent or my tendency to roll my eyes in dissent. But when I put my new hoops on for the first time, they embraced my face in a familiar way.
I upgraded to a bigger pair of hoops a month later.