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How To Get Brooches Working Best In The Style You Need Now

A comprehensive guide to brooches including everything you need to know about what they are, how to wear them, their history and what they say about you.

What are Brooches?

This might seem an obvious question, but you would be surprised how many people are unclear enough about what they are to search for the definition of Brooches.  Brooches are pieces of jewellery with a sharp pin that is used to attach them to the wearer’s clothes. They come in many different forms and styles and are one of the most versatile pieces of jewellery you can own. There is nothing more pleasing than selecting from an array of favourite brooches to pin on when you want to add originality to your day’s chosen outfit.

What is the Difference Between a Brooch and a Broach?

These two different words are where the confusion comes from so I will clear it up right now. The two words have a similar root and essentially mean the same thing, but the spellings differ. They both come from the Latin “broochus” meaning projecting. Over the years and via old French and Middle English words for “pointy thing” two different spellings have emerged. Brooch a noun meaning a piece of jewellery with a pin, and broach a verb meaning to pierce, breach, break apart or poke through.  A brooch broaches the fabric of your collar as you pin it on. Language is crucial even when it comes to jewellery.

What is the Difference Between a Pin and a Brooch?

Not much is the answer, they both do the same thing.  A pin is the brooch’s more casual sister; it may have a simpler attachment method but not necessarily. Pins sit somewhere between brooches and badges on the jewellery scale and consequently it’s a subtle matter of context and mechanism. It may also reflect where you are from, Americans more often refer to pins rather than brooches. A stick pin can be a beautifully understated addition to your lapel, and there are plenty of antique examples available in markets or via specialist sellers on Instagram. I found this wonderfully detailed stag’s head stick pin in Berlin.

Deer head brooch pin: 18ct gold, German 19th century
Deer head pin: 18ct gold, German 19th century

Boutonniere, Buttonhole or Corsage?

These are single or small bunches of flowers pinned to the lapel or dress. The boutonniere or buttonhole is the male version and a corsage the female although you can wear a corsage around your wrist. Most often worn at weddings or other formal occasions, especially by American, and increasingly British teenagers to their school leavers prom. It is a subtype of pin or brooch that I am not going to cover extensively here. If you want to know more about them read Interflora’s extensive blog post on the subject.

How Do You Wear a Brooch?

As with pretty much everything to do with personal style, there are no hard and fast rules about this. A person’s sense of style is their own affair. Despite what irony-free zone Tatler might tell you. Their brooch tips for aspiring poshos include:

Never wear an even number of brooches. It’s bad luck/form.
Whenever anyone asks where your brooch is from, reply, ‘It’s an heirloom, possibly Cartier, I’m not sure’ – even though the piece in question came from Accessorize.
You should wear several strands of pearls and a brooch when going to the races. Take a lesson from the Queen Mother. She knew.
If you notice that your top is flapping open in an immodest way, you may use a brooch to maintain decorum.

Er….thanks Tatler, I think…although claiming your Accessorize brooch is Cartier might mean you’ll end up looking like a twonk unless you do it with a saucer full of irony!

How to Wear a Brooch on a Suit or Jacket

There are plenty of options here, good coats are made of robust fabric, and you can pin one or more brooches to the lapel. A big statement brooch on a winter coat or jacket looks terrific and transforms a dark garment into something far more seductive.

A tip if you are going by car, pin your brooch on the opposite lapel to the seat belt to avoid you being spiked and the brooch becoming damaged. The same goes for a shoulder bag with a wide strap wear the pin on the opposite side you habitually carry your bag, so you don’t get the strap caught.

If you need to be smart, there is nothing like a well-cut suit to make you feel both practical and confident. The block colours (let’s face it probably black) can be very sombre and uninteresting, so a brooch is the perfect piece of jewellery to add individuality to your look. Customising a suit is very satisfying and will help off the peg garments show off your individuality rather than blend in.  Why sit on public transport in winter and be yet another person in a plain black coat?

Brooch Placement

Exact placement depends on the size and shape of the brooch and your personal preference. A big statement brooch with a roundish shape that takes up space on your lapel should be reasonably central. Place it on the seam that usually lies between the two parts of a lapel consequently it will be framed more effectively on your jacket.

On a collarless jacket, a good guide would be over that hollow just under your collarbone and in front of your shoulder joint. In contrast, a small bar brooch will need careful placement in the centre of one of the lapels. A giant froofy affair with feathers will want plenty of room to spread up to your shoulder. Experiment, get to know your brooches and see where they seem happy to sit on different jackets. I’m not kidding when I say I’ve spent ten minutes positioning a brooch, maybe that’s just me!

 

Large Silver Brooch

There’s a useful little video by stylist Sandy Dumont about wearing a brooch on a jacket.  She talks about wearing a brooch on the right to draw the eye up to your face. The idea is that most people are right-handed consequently as you shake hands the brooch somehow draws their eye up to the face. This idea does not strike me as plausible.  We are naturally programmed to snap our eyes to others faces. As a result I avoid using images showing my jewellery where the model has a direct gaze at the viewer. I guarantee you’ll look at her eyes first not the jewellery. Nonetheless, it is a handy video that covers brooches on formal jackets.

 

 

How to Wear a Brooch with a Scarf

My favourite type of scarf is a square one with a tasseled edge. I fold it into a triangle then wrap it around my neck. The main point of the triangle and the two ends hang down in front. I then pin a brooch centrally to hold the scarf pieces together. This placement means the scarf stays put and I can wear a great piece of jewellery (and not get cold!)

Long scarves can be knotted and pinned centrally or at the side. They can also be crossed over your shoulder with a brooch at the crossover point. large scarves or wraps can be pinned to your shoulder with a big statement brooch nestling in the folds.  You could try a more structured cravat style scarf with a shirt and a centrally placed pin on holding the ends down.

Looser weave scarves and heavier materials can take big fibulae style brooches with thicker pins. If you are wearing a silk scarf or more delicate fabric choose a brooch with a finer pin, or you will snag the fabric. Every good jeweller knows that you must design with the wearer’s body and often clothes in mind.

 

Statement Brooches by Poppy Porter

 

Seasonal Brooch Style

There’s a lot of dark colours about in Winter and Autumn black coats, brown shoes, dark dresses and scarves. I’m a big scarf wearer, September to May I pretty much don’t take one off I hate that cold patch winter leaves on your neck. Necklaces barely get seen, and earrings sometimes catch on a scarf so brooch it is. You don’t want that unfinished feeling you get if you leave the house without the right jewellery on! Dark colours do make an excellent backdrop for jewellery and brooches are a natural and potentially stunning choice for everyday jewellery in winter. Don’t forget your hat, if you are a hat wearer pep up the brim or band with a carefully chosen brooch.

Summer and Spring are equally fun times for brooches. Sun hats, wedding clutch bags and dress belts can all be adorned with brooches as can your more casual summer wear. A little collection of tiny pins on a t-shirt can add a detail that will consequently take your hot weather looks to another level.

Choose brooches with themes to match your mood or the season. Traditional Japanese hair adornments are famous for reflecting the seasons. Take a leaf out of the geisha’s book and match your brooch with the world around you. My favourite seasonal brooch from my collection is my “Osterhase” or easter hare.

 

Osterhase or easter bunny brooch

How To Wear a Brooch as A Necklace or Pendant

This is a really clever trick to make yourself a new necklace. Simply find a brooch that you like and will balance well on a chain, piece of cord or leather thong. Then you can loop the pin through the chain or pin the brooch to the cord or thong and tie on at the desired length. As a result you will have a new necklace to wear. Pins worn on a long chain can also be pinned subtly to clothing. This will stop it banging against a table as you sit down.  Some antique brooches were made with this in mind and will have a little loop at the top through which to thread a chain.

The History of Brooches

Brooches are one of the most ancient forms of adornment. Right now the brooch is back, well it never really left but for a long time it has considered unfashionable, and I rarely sold any. Now, things have changed, and brooch requests are growing.

Fibulae are the oldest form of brooch and date back as far as the Bronze and Iron Age. Both Celts and Romans wore them. They were made from bronze, silver or gold and used to hold clothes together before the invention of buttons and other fastenings. Fibulae are made from one piece of metal. They have a coiled safety pin like spring and bow top decoration fastening with a hook or loop at the other end. Often these had rings through the coil to attach chains to link them together. I have explored how to make these kinds of brooches in my jewellery you can see them here.

Gold fibulae joined by a chain
Celtic gold fibulae joined by a chain

The Jewellery Editor has an interesting run down of popular kinds of historical brooches here

Alone or Together: Brooches Are Your Message to the World

One brooch or pin is excellent but I also I love collections of them together.  The more eclectic the better. A mixture of different symbols and shapes can be a document of experiences, opinions or pass-times, likes, loves, memories or belonging and make for a fun little museum of the lapel. These are a mix of bages and brooches but a collection of vintage sparklers will look just as great. Experiment, have fun.

collection of brooches and lapel pins
A curated lapel museum: what does it all mean? The gold fibula pin and chain has a pocket watch on the other end, a maple leaf for those of my family who moved to Canada long ago, a rabbit for luck and for my son, a Norwegian Soljie baby brooch to ward off evil spirits (and because I love it), two flowers for my grandparents, Imagine Peace Now (look up Borris Bally’s exhibition) a traction engine for a fun day out, Educational Travel because you should, Green and Black by Shana Astrachan, Nixon because all bad things eventually come to an end and the very first piece of jewellery I ever owned is the golden zebra brooch.  I made the silver brooch on the scarf in an ongoing series inspired by the sound of electric guitar.

Why Brooches are a Real Jewellery Box Staple

  1. Personalise, customise and individualise your off the peg jackets and coats.
  2. They transcend age, anyone any age can wear and enjoy their timeless quality.
  3. Brooches are so easy to wear, no fit required.
  4. Big brooches with chunkier pins work well on knitwear.
  5. You can pick them up for pennies in charity shops and thrift stores.
  6. Brooches fit your every style.
  7. Thread onto a chain or thong for a new pendant
  8. Pin onto a ribbon to wear as a choker
  9. A brooch or pin can uplift your outfits whatever the season or your mood.
  10. They are little signboards, they say something, they transmit a message.
  11. An easy way to do art, brooches are like little sculptures or paintings to wear.
  12. With brooches, you get to indulge your inner magpie.
  13. Make your own, pretty much anything can become a brooch.
  14. You can wear a brooch anywhere. On scarves, coats, jackets, a big woolly jumper, a cowl neck, pinned to a bag, at your shoulder, neck or chest, on a hat.

Brooches are one of the most versatile and easy to wear types of jewellery. As a consequence having a few in your jewellery box to choose from on an uninspiring morning can start the day off on a sound footing. The best brooches are like little wearable sculptures; some are large some are tiny. They hold a fascination and personal attraction. Like netsuke, the small Japanese sculptures, they invite curiosity. Brooches also convey a messages, fasten, adorn, make a talking point or express something about your identity. Have a look, see if you can find something that takes your fancy to pin on and make your day more interesting.