You Have To Earn The Right To Wear Big Jewelry In Your Career

A woman who works in finance recently wrote into the Careerist blog noting that at a recent event for women at Barclays she noticed that a dominating trend amongst executive women were large South Sea pearls (the size of gum balls), both black and white. She asked if the size of your pearls need to reflect your job status? After talking with some experts, we have decided that women need to earn the right to wear the big, expensive jewelry at work. If they do it too soon in their careers, they can hurt themselves.

Vivia Chen, The Careerist’s Chief Blogger wrote:

“Now, I know my friend is obsessed with big pearls. I’ve noticed that as she keeps rising in her company over the years, her pearls—and other jewels—have gotten more substantial.

I don’t blame her. If I were in her position (instead of being a humble blogger), I’d cloak myself in  some nice baubles too. Fact is, women who have achieved a certain professional status (law firm partner or senior positions at corporations) often wear lots of big jewelry—like chunky gold bracelets, big diamond rings, or earrings studded with emeralds and rubies.”

The right to be more fashionable and wear expensive designer pieces is a rite of passage in stricter clothing industries like finance and law. Last year we wrote about senior women at Goldman Sachs wearing leopard-print heels and how that was only acceptable for women that had climbed their way up the ladder. Fashion in finance and law is all about paying your dues. You can’t wear the fun shoes (and by fun I mean not plain black and Christian Louboutin) and big jewelry until you have established yourself.

With expensive shoes, handbags, clothing and jewelry you are earning the right to wear them in two ways. You have earned the right to wear them because of career longevity and success and also you have literally made enough money because of your job to afford these things. Of course, some young women can afford to buy these things because they either have family money or for one reason or another, but people will be skeptical that they themselves didn’t earn the money to buy these pieces.

Kat Griffin, founder of the workplace fashion blog Corporette told The Grindstone:

“For younger women, the biggest problem is that if it’s obviously far more expensive than your pay grade, it implies that you got it from someone else — your father, your boyfriend, your husband — and that you don’t need to work for the money. Until you get established in your career and have a bank of credibility, it just gives the wrong impression.”

Rachel Aubie, a Research Administration Analyst at McMaster University, says that clothing and age/status in the office are irrevocably linked.

“Office attire is affected by the ‘stigma’ attached to being a young person in the workplace,” she says, adding that she overcompensated by dressing more formally than she was required to. “Women rise to this challenge exceptionally well, because we have to, and we are very fashion savvy. But it’s just another highlight of how different the workplace is for younger people who are just trying to move-up and succeed.”

Chen wrote:

“I’ve seen “women of a certain age” wear all sorts of showy jewelry, and I don’t recall that they got criticized. I think that’s because people feel these women have paid enough dues in their careers to show them off as war trinkets.”

But this doesn’t mean you should throw out your really good fake pearls or your big chunky necklace from J.Crew if you are a 20-something woman in a middle management role. The old adage of “Dress for the job you want, not the one you have” should always apply but most women in their 20′s cannot afford a Mikimoto Black pearl necklace and earring set for $8,950 or that is not what they are going to choose to spend their money on (they will probably choose shelter and food.) And you don’t want to buy a gaudy knock-off.

And even women at senior levels have to be weary of wearing too much bling-bling jewelry. Even if you have the huge diamond ring, maybe don’t wear the matching earrings that day. Chen thinks pearls are just better for work over diamonds. The woman who works in finance said of pearls, ” No matter how big, they are still soft and unimposing. Kind of like well-tailored clothes on a man, or classic Italian shoes.”

Kat said, “I think that women should be cautious of “blingy” jewelry. Let’s put it this way, if a Real Housewife of Anywhere is wearing it, it’s probably not professional.”

Photo: lev radin/

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