Once in a while, when we want to convey in the same breath that something is both contemptible and hilarious, my boyfriend and I will cackle, "rings on his fingers," while waggling our fingers at each other and generally behaving like morons. It's from High Fidelity, the movie that introduced me to John Cusack (heresy! It should've been Say Anything, I know), and is about Ray, the tai chi-doing, pony-tail-wearing, tantric-sex-having horror that shacks up with Cusack's ex-girlfriend. The rings are just one example of Ray's yuckiness; he also produces "horrible cooking smells" and is one of those guys that, while telling Rob that Laura's descision to leave Rob and come share his bed wasn't easy for Laura and she needs to be respected, will reach out and firmly grasp the other man's shoulder in a manner that can only be understood as a hate-crime.
The problem with men's jewelery is that it can pretty much only be awful. Women, in addition to having centuries of socialized adornment behind them, also frequently have a wide range of tastes and styles to choose from. Last season's bib necklace is cousins with the lavaliere, the pendant, the big ropy chain, the delicate little chain, pearl necklaces (oh, behave), leather chokers, and a myriad other selections, ranging in price from "that store at the mall that gives you a free pair of earrings with every ear piercing" to "mortgage your house." But men? Despite attempts at blingy options in the last few years, the reality is, if a guy comes at me with a lot of metal, my first instinct is to avert my gaze. It demonstrates a level of conspicuous consumption and vanity that is wildly unappealing. Frankly, in both genders, if your choice in jewelry overshadows anything else in the first impression, you're probably doing it rather tastelessly.
Let's do a stereotype rundown, shall we? Let's see: if you wear an earring, you're either gay in 1994 or Harrison Ford. If you wear a chain, you're an Italian-American high school student, with tearaway Diadora pants and a professionally groomed set of eyebrows that are a source of both pride and shame. If you have facial piercing and are under 25, you are deliberately annoying your parents; over 25, and you attend drum circles and are considered "underemployed" by the government. Got a lot of rings? Ick. Bracelet? You're likely wearing an ID bracelet, an invention I have never seen outside a Stephen King book. (Or a hemp bracelet, in which case, carry on, former camp counselor.) Anklet? Have fun geting strip-searched coming back through the Vietnamese border, you hippie tourist. Have we missed any?
If you're among the jewelry-wearing masses, don't despair. I'm only one woman, and if you like your rings and anklets and headpieces, go right ahead and wear them. There are always exceptions to the rules. When I first moved to Toronto, I was struck by the number of regular guys who wear rings. I can't pin it to a specific culture or age group; dudes in the city just seem more okay with wearing jewelry than their country-mouse counterparts. Leather bracelet cuffs are prevalent and sufficiently dudely, although their moment of ubiquity seems to have passed. Some guys wear a crucifix on a chain, ranging in subtlety from "big honkin' cross on a string" to something a little more subtle. It can be tough, though, navigating the waters of personal bling: like cologne or sports cars or Jagermeister, a little goes an awfully long way.
Men don't get the same fashion breadth as women. We get purses, shoes, hosiery, make-up, hairdos and jewelry; they get to let loose with a really wild pair of socks. I'm sure it's not keeping most men up at night, since they make loads more money and have lots more power, but when your major accessory choice in the A.M. comes down to the brown belt or the black belt, chances are, you have a penis.
Obviously, the major exception to the jewelery rules is the wedding ring. Stalwart and true, the band would seem to be a no-brainer. But, again, we've come a long way since they would just hand you a gold band when you signed your marriage license (they never did, but that would have been dope). Now men (and women) are expected to embody themselves in their ring choices. I myself love a classic gold band - I love gold rings, because I'm an aspiring fancy person - but I've seen rings that have ranged from turquoise hunks - amazing! - to pieces that look like lug nuts - not amazing! Utilitarian-type guys seem to think they need a big freakin' ring, as though that might showcase their handy side, or be useful in case they get a flat. Wedding rings are supposed to be gifts from one beloved to the other, but it's handy to know if your future husband is a plain-band guy or if he might like something more ornate.
When we visited Brooklyn last weekend, I picked myself up a memory ring. It's a teeny gold band that usually rests on the pinkie, but when I have to remember something, it goes on the first knuckle of a larger finger. I love it: delicate, useful, and unexpected. I feel slightly bad that my boyfriend will never know the joy of a fun jewelry purchase. If he gets married, he's said that he'll likely wear a ring, but the fun of a pendant or an interesting earring isn't in his sartorial vocabulary. Honestly, though? I am mostly relieved. As we learned in High Fidelity, rings on his fingers only leads to ponytails, and you might get smashed in the face with an air conditioning unit. Better stick with funky socks.