If we define costume jewelry (otherwise known as fashion jewelry) as inexpensive, complementary or substitute jewelry, then costume jewelry has been around for hundreds of years when jewelers made pieces out of cheaper quality glass. More appropriately, however, costume jewelry emerged in the early 20th century, especially during the Great Depression.
Due to financial hardships caused by the Great Depression, costume jewelry emerged out of necessity. People simply needed small accessories that were affordable and still carried some semblance of class and fashion. Jewelry companies were smart enough to no longer cater to one class of people, making small pieces accessible for more people. Because jewelry for accessories could be formed from semi-precious metals, common people and those hit by financial ruin could still have something lavish.
The idea never really stopped. During the 1940s and 1950s, costume jewelry transformed during what is referred to the Retro Period. Much like the Great Depression, a lot of this influence was due to necessity as metals were more expensive during World War II. Some costume jewelry during the time period included moonstones, military motifs, and Bakelite/plastic replicas that still carried sophisticated designs and materials.
Costume jewelry further evolved during the Modern Art movement, with items becoming more independent and personal. Costume jewelry included charm bracelets and other lavish small pieces to complement fashionable trends. Jewelry became less exclusive and more accessible for all socioeconomic classes. Furthermore, due to the growing popularity of Hollywood, necklaces, bracelets and earrings grew in demand. Therefore, it made financial sense for companies to start producing jewelry that common class citizens could afford as more people started to emulate celebrity styles.
Because of its involvement through the century, costume jewelry is a great source for vintage jewelry. Whereas certain pieces require one or two unique and expensive purchases, many vintage jewelry pieces can be collected together because of the affordability that costume jewelry provides.
Despite its name, its use is pretty much boundless – fancy balls, everyday outfits, formal attire and more casual parties. Accessories have become increasingly more popular throughout the decades and costume jewelry plays an integral part in completing an outfit because it is affordable, varied and can bring multiple styles together. The difference between costume jewelry and fine pieces is in the metals or stones used. Obviously, more expensive jewelry can be passed down between generations, but because trends go in and out of style in a flash, costume jewelry can become a replaceable portion of any repertoire.
As we move into a culture that screams individuality, appreciates the past and looks for creative outlets for the future, costume jewelry is a sector which can provide a more varied outlook, allow for customization and still be affordable to all consumers.