The History and Culture of Stretched Ears

People have been decorating and making changes to the appearance of their bodies since recorded history began. This has taken many forms through the ages, such as tattooing, piercing, stretching, scarring, branding, muscle sculpture, hair styling and many more, and for almost as many different reasons.

The three major purposes of these forms of body modification have historically been tribal (to display allegiance to one tribe or group of people), in war (to scare the enemy and distinguish friend from foe), and for fashion and perceived beauty. Ear stretching has been popular for centuries, but this popularity has increased in Western culture in recent years.

For some, there is a profound spirituality in the protracted process of stretching ears, while for others it is fun and more involved than simple ear piercing, and the fact that fewer people do it adds to its appeal. Others have their own reasons, but irrespective of these, stretched ears have always been part of human history and will continue to be so.

Reasons For Stretching Ears

Just as with other forms of body modification or enhancement, people have historically stretched their ears for a number of reasons. For some cultures, this represented a coming of age, while for others it was carried out to enhance beauty or sexuality. Throughout the ages it has been used both for religious reasons and to protect the subject from witchcraft or evil. Ear stretching is still carried out all over the world for a variety of reasons, including those mentioned above.

If you travel to Africa, you will find that stretched ears are common among many indigenous peoples, including the Maasia in east Africa, the Mursi in Ethiopia, and it is also carried out in some Asian countries such as Thailand. In South America, stretched ears are common amongst the Huaorami of the Amazon Basin, but you generally need go no further than your own hometown to see some excellent examples of ear stretching. Stretched piercings and flesh tunnels are now a common form of ear adornment for Western youth.

Icemen and Pharaohs

One of the more famous examples from history is Ötzi the Iceman, a 5,300 year-old mummified body found in the Alps between Austria and Italy. In addition to several tattoos, Ötzi had an ear stretched to around 7 mm – 11 mm diameter. The giant Easter Island statues display stretched ear lobes, the likely reason for them being known as ‘Long Ears’. The story goes that the statues were carved in honour of the original inhabitants of the island representing them with the earlobe stretchings that were part of their culture. When a different tribe arrived on the island, they were known as ‘Short Ears’, and were forced into slavery by the Long Ears. Eventually there were more Short Ears than Long Ears, and the latter were overthrown and the statues toppled over.

In Egypt, the boy king Tutankhamen is represented as having stretched ears, and his famous golden death mask features holes that can take 10 mm diameter bars. The processes used to stretch these famous sets of ears are not known, because there are many techniques that can be used. It is likely that primitive stretchings were carried out using wooden plugs or bamboo, and although a few people like to return to these early methods, they are not recommended today for health reasons.

Stretching Ears is Not Reversible

If you are interested in stretched ears, there are certain factors of which you should be aware. The first is that it is generally permanent. Once stretched, your ears stay that way. The holes do not heal over like a normal ear piercing, so make sure that you are happy with having stretched ears for the rest of your life. There is time at the beginning to stop and allow your ears to heal back to normal, but once the diameter reached 10-12 mm, it is too late and the hole will not close up. Another is that it takes time and patience. You do not visit a piercer and come out after an hour or two with stretched ears!

If you have decided that you want it done, you are advised to have the procedure carried out professionally. Yes, you can go it alone, but a professional will provide you with the best results, and it will also be safer. It will be quicker if your ears are already pierced, because otherwise you will need that done first and then wait up to 8 weeks for it to heal. Then you can start of the stretching, or gauging as it is often referred to.

That is because the diameter of the needles used is referred to as their ‘gauge’. The gauge of a needle drops as the diameter increases, so that an 18-gauge needle is small – in fact, that’s the gauge of an average initial piercing. Once you reach a 2 gauge, the diameter is that of a pencil and so on down. An 11 mm hole is 000-gauge (actually 11.11 mm or 7/16 inch).

Ear Stretching Should Not Be Rushed

As already explained, ear stretching is a slow process, and you should never try to rush it. If you try to rush, it will likely take longer eventually because unless the ear has time to get used to each lower gauge it won’t heal properly. You might then have to start all over again. Gauged ears should not bleed and there is distinct procedure to follow. Fundamentally, you increase the diameter of the piercing in small steps, allowing healing between each step. A common way to achieve this is to use an insertion taper, where one end of the taper is the same diameter as your existing hole, and the other side is of larger diameter.

This can be in the form of a stud that you wear until you are ready for the next size up. The next stud will have one end at the current diameter and the other at the lower gauge (larger diameter). That is pushed through and secured, and you wear that until the next insertion, and so on. If you keep your ears and jewellery clean and sterilized between sessions using anti-bacterial soap or saline solution then you should heal fine between each session – allow about two weeks between sessions.

Take the Advice of the Pros

It is very important to follow the advice of the professionals, and do not try to cut corners. Many people have ruined their ears by failing to be patient, so don’t let that be you. Follow cleaning instructions to the letter, both during and after the entire stretching process. There are many different types of ear jewellery available for stretched ears, including flesh tunnels, bars and rings.

There is also a wide choice of materials, from wood or plastic to gold and platinum. Many prefer glass while others find Teflon best, particularly if they suffer allergies. Niobium, surgical stainless steel and titanium are also popular materials for stretched ear jewellery.

Keep in mind that not all can be worn indefinitely, particularly the porous materials such as wood, shell and some plastics that can harbour bacteria, yeasts and fungi. Such jewellery should be regularly removed and thoroughly cleaned and sterilized. Ear stretching sets you apart from the usual crowd, and can be a very distinctive form of ornamentation. It is something that few people regret having done.

Italian Designer Jewelry History

The history of jewelry design in Italy is rich, diverse and passionate. Modern Italian designer jewelry draws from traditions in fine craftsmanship that dates back centuries. Almost every culture indulges in some form of body adornment, much of this is done in relation to a ceremonial purpose; religious affiliation, social status or family. This was no less true in Italy; however, there are some unique differences in the approach of the Italian designer to jewelry that is linked to the great role of Rome in world history. The campaigns that extended the power of the Roman empire to far corners of the world, resulted in different influences coming to bear on the Italian artistic design of jewelry.

In many of the works by classical Italian jewelry designers, you see traces of Egyptian, Greek and Asian culture. How the combination of these cultures impacted the development of designs, is easy to see from the discoveries of jewelry made during the ancient Etruscan period in southern Italy. From the 9th to 4th centuries B.C., these early Italian jewelry designers, whose gold jewelry designs have never been equaled in beauty, perfected the techniques that are still in use in making Italian designer jewelry today. A prime example of the value jewelers place on their craft is seen in the life of one of the best known 19th century Italian jewelry designers, Pio Fortuna Castellani, who studied and revived the Etruscan “granulation” technique for crafting gold jewelry. Castellani, among others throughout the history of Italian jewelry design, have infused passion into this craft of beauty, that in many regions of the country is almost an obsession. This is the main factor which has set their production apart from the rest of the world.

Gold has always been the most highly used metal in Italian designer jewelry; respecting the fact that the human body, mind and spirit has a strong, innate connection to gold, more than any other metal. Prized for its affinity to the color to the sun, our powerful lifegiver on earth, the attraction of gold is magnetic and was revered in ancient times. The demand for gold Italian designer jewelry of today has not lessened, but the wonderful Italian sterling silver jewelry cannot be ignored either. Now there are Italian jewelry designers that have chosen to work exclusively in the highest quality sterling silver, creating beautiful ornaments for every part of the body. The demand for Italian designer jewelry is the result of high production standards along with the originality, quality and diversity. The history of craftsmanship of Italian designer jewelry has always been highly valued, whether it was for gold, sterling silver or gemstone pieces.

Italian designer jewelry today continues to make fashion history with designs in bold and delicate gold, oversized and trendy sterling silver with diamonds or semi-precious gemstones. When you are ready to adorn your body with something beautiful, take advantage of the rich history of Italian designer jewelry to satisfy your every desire.

History of the Dressing Gown

Definitions

For the purpose of this article it might be useful to begin with a few definitions of the various descriptors that are most commonly used when referring to a robe worn around the house as loungewear:

Robe

The English word ‘robe’ is taken from the middle English word of the same name meaning ‘garment’, the word ‘robe’ has its routes in the Frankish language as ‘rouba’. It is thought to have originated with the meaning of ‘booty’ or ‘spoils’ referring to items and clothing stolen and related to the word ‘rob’. The word was adopted by the Old French language to originally refer to the same ‘booty’ or ‘spoils’ however the meaning has evolved to the present day to now refer to ‘a woman’s dress.’

The point of distinction between a robe and similar items such as a cloak and cape are its sleeves.

Bathrobes

Bathrobes are made using absorbent fabrics, most commonly terry toweling, this has the benefit of drying the body after bathing. The bathrobe serves two benefits; as a towel, absorbing moisture after bathing and as an informal garment of clothing, to be worn around the house after waking in the morning in addition to wearing in the evening after bathing.

Dressing Gown

A dressing gown is a term that was traditionally associated with men’s clothing garments. Dressing gowns are loose open fronted robes that usually close with a fabric belt about the waist, much more on this to come!

Housecoat

Although commonly done, the dressing gown should no be confused with the housecoat, this was a very popular item of attire in the 1940s. Also known as a duster, the house coat was a very useful garment; it was longer in length than an apron and more modest in coverage than a pinafore. At a time when women would rarely leave their houses without looking their absolute best the housecoat was the perfect way to protect the chosen outfit of the day, women would simply switch into their housecoat to perform their daily chores.

Housecoats varied in style but were usually knee length or longer to cover any under garments, they were made from a light fabric which was sometimes quilted for warmth. The housecoat would fasten at the front with either buttons or a zipper.

The use of the housecoat evolved over time, becoming more elegant, sophisticated and feminine in form, many women started to wear their housecoats in the evenings, even when hosting guests, the housecoat took on a similar role to the male ‘dressing gown’.

In recent times the housecoat has become a rather dated term that is rarely used. Most people prefer to adapt the term dressing gown as unisex for both male and female house robes. On a recent poll that was run by thestudentroom.co.uk, 91% of male and female respondents preferred to use the term dressing gown.

The History of the Dressing Gown

It is thought that the wearing of a dressing gown in the western world has its routes in the mid 17th Century, it was originally only worn by men and it was called the ‘banyan’. The term ‘banyan’ encompassed many different styles of robes that were popular amongst men between the mid 17th to the early 19th Century.

Europeans began to adopt dress style and influences from other cultures in the early 17th Century and the banyan is the earliest example of this. It is thought that men adopted the ‘banyan’ design from Persian and Asian inspired clothing (Banyan in Portuguese, Arabic and Gujarati all meaning ‘merchant’).

At the time of the mid 17th century a popular penchant for the exotic and oriental had become a mainstream fascination in Europe. This coincided, and could be attributed to, strengthened trade routes with the East. The Chinoiserie style emerged as a popular fashion. This French term meaning “Chinese-esque” has since become a recurring theme in European artistic styles. Chinoiserie reflects Chinese artistic influences. This penchant for the exotic and oriental was a leading influence on the success of the ‘banyan’, this name being predecessor to the ‘dressing gown’.

Also described in texts as a morning gown, robe de chambre or nightgown, the banyan was a loose floor length robe. The style of the banyan in the 1800s was a simple ‘T-shape’ kimono-style design as seen below. Banyans were usually produced from imported Indian Chintz fabric although they were sometimes made from Chinese and French silks too.

The banyan was worn around the home as an informal coat it was most commonly worn over the shirt and breeches. The banyan was usually paired with a soft, turban-like cap that was worn in place of the formal periwig, a very popular wig worn by men at the time of the 17th and 18th centuries. During the 18th century it was fashionable for men, particularly of an intellectual of philosophical persuasion to have their portraits commissioned and to be painted whilst wearing their banyans or morning gowns:

‘Loose dresses contribute to the easy and vigorous exercise of the faculties of the mind. This remark is so obvious, and so generally known, that we find studious men are always painted in gowns, when they are seated in their libraries.’

(Benjamin Rush, Founding Father of the United States. ‘Franklin and Friends’, 2006)

Later the banyan evolved into a more fitted style with set-in sleeves similar to a man’s coat. The banyan was made available in many different lengths and shapes with different cuts and styles. After the 19th century, the name of the ‘banyan’ also evolved to become the ‘dressing gown’ of today.

Women and The Dressing Gown

All this talk of men in dressing gowns is fine but I hear you ask – so what about women and dressing gowns?!

Whilst men in Europe were quick to adopt and incorporate Asian and Asian inspired textiles and garments it was not until the late 18th Century that women’s fashion would be influenced. At this time it was a small accent such as a shawl or fan and it would be a further 100 years until women in Europe would begin wearing clothing from other cultures such as the kimono and Chinese robe.

There is little mention in history books of women wearing robes although we do know that they did indeed wear an equivalent of the dressing gown although it was much simpler in style and fabric to the mans banyan. In his study of the Nineteenth Century French Bourgeoisie style Philippe Perrot observed:

‘The dressing gown constituted a curious split between men and women. Men were dazzling and women were drab.’

(‘Fashioning the Bourgeoisie’ by Philippe Perrot, 1981).

Perhaps this ‘drabness’ explains why there is little written in the history books of style and fashion to chronicle the female dressing gown. This lack of historical interest in the female equivalent of the dressing gown continues in the history books until the 19th Century. Fortunately things have changed and ladies now have an abundance of beautiful, opulent dressing gowns to chose from.