Why I Can’t Quit You, Hoops

“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…

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