PITTSBURGH, Pa. — It's no longer taboo for males to bling it up. But even the man who won't wear anything bolder than a watch knows that jewelry sends a message.
In the past, stereotypes weighed men down. Hippies of the 1960s were all about leather. Braided necklaces and thick cuffs were popular accessories for a generation of individualists sporting pony tails, mustaches and tunics. In the '70s, the heavy gold ID bracelet was a favorite of wise guys and wannabes while '80s rock musicians added metal studs to leather armbands for a more menacing look. In the '90s, rappers were all in when it came to thick gold chains, and professional athletes began sporting diamond earrings the size of small planets.
Men's baubles often are a way of saying, "I am unconventional."
Today "(b)racelets are probably the most popular choice in men's jewelry next to a watch," says Amie Guarino of Louis Anthony Jewelers in Pittsburgh. "Men are often hesitant to accessorize with jewelry simply because they are not used to wearing it. Believe me, men want to express themselves, too!"
Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central's "Colbert Report" would agree. After injuring his wrist during a pre-show warm-up, he created the red rubber "Wrist Strong" bracelet. The Colbert bump pushed male bracelet wearing into the mainstream.
"I started wearing a silver cuff Lord's Prayer bracelet on my right wrist two months ago and I never take it off," notes John Henne of Pittsburgh's Henne Jewelers. "I get as many compliments on it as I do for my best watch."
The bracelet as masculine ornamentation is a trend that has been growing since Lance Armstrong's yellow Live Strong bands. Bracelets that stand for something other than personal success seem to have opened the door to wrist wear that doesn't just tell time or warn of a medical malady.
"I think wanting to accentuate their look with fine jewelry and watches is the natural progression in men's fashion," said David Gordon of Orr's Jewelers, which carries the John Hardy beaded bracelet among others.
For guys who are still struggling with the image thing, there are stepping stones. Jawbone and Fitbit are basically pedometers that track your every step. Then there is the Survival Strap, which winds 16 to 24 feet of paracord into a patterned bracelet. Besides coming in many color combinations, it can be unwound to help snare a rabbit for dinner in the event of a sudden apocalypse. Seriously, if you need a length of cord, it is right there.
Jeweler David Yurman believes that men in the creative arts have helped make bracelets cool.
"I notice it in the music industry the most," he says. "I know a couple of auto mechanics out in Brooklyn who do great work and they wear bracelets. All the hipsters have them — baseball players, Wall Streeters. Buddhist beads and strings. Basically it's a little peacocking. It says, 'I look good.'
"I think we are in the Cole Porter era now (with jewelry) — anything goes."