Reader Mail – Pearl Necklaces and Younger Women

Can Younger Women Wear Pearls | CorporetteA while ago, we got this intriguing e-mail from a reader:

As a late graduation present, I was considering asking my folks for a classic strand of pearls.  This turned out to be more complicated than I had thought.  Is it (still) true that younger women shouldn’t aspire to larger pearls?  I don’t want to buy a strand that will look silly when I’m in my 30s and 40s — what’s the largest I can get away with in my 20s?

The article she linked to explained that larger pearls were for older women — the largest sizes being for women “45 and up,” with the smallest sizes being intended for “older teens, 16 to 24.”

For our $.02: We love our 7.5 MM x 8 MM pearls and wear them all the time — several times a week.   They stodge up a questionable outfit and make us feel like we belong when we’re at an event with much bigger wigs than us.  As for the size, we would say that if you’re wearing suits you’re old enough to get this size of pearls (which, according to the website, is the last size of pearls acceptable for women under 35).  Go to the store and try on different pairs — you’ll eventually find one that feels and looks at home on your neck — and THAT’S the size and length you should get.  (We went with 18″ and would never look back, but if you wear button-down shirts or crewnecks frequently you may prefer to go with the tighter 16″ length.)

We would recommend splurging and getting the best set of pearls you can afford — if you can, go for the top grades of Mikimoto brand pearls, sold at finer jewelry stores.  Even Zales sells a set of mid-level Mikimoto pearls.  If you do end up buying this mid size (6.5 through 7.5MM), don’t consider it money spent on something you can only use for 15-20 years — another look that’s hugely popular among older women is the double- and triple-stranded pearl necklace, and you can convert a single strand necklace INTO a double- and triple-strand necklace if you want to (either by resetting the pearls or getting a special clasp to link the first necklace with a second necklace).

As for larger white pearls — 8.5MM and up — we would actually recommend going fake.  You’re in good company –  Jackie Kennedy, Michelle Obama and Barbara Bush have all notoriously gone for large faux pearls.  (And if you want to wear them and you’re 25, go for it, we say.)   (Another option that would probably carry you from your 20s through your 70s would be to really go all out and get a rare colored pearl, a la Nancy Pelosi‘s Tahitian pearls.  (Hers reportedly cost $80K!))

We’re curious — what are other people’s thoughts on pearls?  What would your advice be for our reader?   Do you wear them frequently?  Did you inherit them or purchase them for a specific event, like your wedding?  Have you upgraded a set recently?

Comments

  1. I just upgraded to 7mm Chocolate Pearls. They’re great for white shirts because they stand out, but they also look great with bright colors and black. I’m 32. My hope is that I will wear them for years, maybe the rest of my life, but for right now they feel like a fresh alternative to all the traditional white pearls that still looks classic.

  2. I’m young and I wear a strand of pearls all the time for when I think I need to dress up an outfit. I have no idea what size they are, but I got them from my grandmother when I graduated high school, and they were restrung from a very long strand she had. I had never really thought about size of pearls as an age thing. If anything, to me the larger pearls look like something for younger women rather than older as I think they look “chunkier,” especially the big fake ones, and I think of chunky jewelry as for younger. I also really love black pearls.

    I should add I’m originally from the south, so perhaps my view on pearls is skewed because I think it’s sort of a traditional thing down here?

  3. I received my (16″) strand for my 21st birthday – 8.5mm – and have used them with everything – tshirts, suits, dressing up my business casual, and my wedding dress. I had never heard of the size/age thing before this post – I just thought mine were flattering and beautiful!

  4. A good set of pearls is ageless, no matter what the size! Always adds a touch of traditional class. had no idea there was an age chart based on size — sounds like a marketing thing made up by the industry to convince you that you need to buy new pearls every few years (think how DeBeers so succesfully invented the “2 months salary rule” — few people remember when it’s engagement ring time that it was just part of a marketing campaign!).

    Pearls are often handed down — b.c they are so timeless — so probably they need some schtick to increase sales!

  5. Just want to throw in that I recently spoke with my jeweler about pearls (recently meaning ~4 weeks ago), he said the prices have and will continue to come down because of the ability of China to produce Akoya pearls that (as he put it) “no longer look like rice crispies”. He said the mass production of these was changing the “entire” economy of pearls. I was looking at a strand of pinky/peachy/creamy ones for spring and he said to wait to buy. While I have not conducted any research to verify what he told me, he’s an award winning jeweler and I’ve known and trusted him for five years.

  6. I think it all depends on the outfit and the event, as well as the look you wish to portray. Pearls are like a great pair of jeans – they can go almost anywhere, depending on what you pair it with. I had never considered the size/age thing before as other posters mentioned. I’m a few weeks away from being 24 and I have a short, fake strand that look great with a v-neck sweater for work/work events. I must admit: It does make me feel more legit when I’m the only person under 30 in a room!

  7. Don’t pay extra for brand name pearls. The best peals in the world still come from the South China Sea. If your jeweler can verify authenticity, that’s the thing to look for.

  8. I have also never heard the size/age thing although I think in general shorter single strands are a younger look vs. long single strands. I fully agree with the comment on multiple strands/age though.

    FWIW, I bought a set of huge faux pearls on a fairly short strand awhile back. I call it my “flinstone necklace” but I get more compliments on it then most of my expensive jewelry, and it’s great for everyday. I don’t rock them in court but I’ve had a number of coworkers and clients tell me they love it because they’re so tired of the “pearls and sweater sets” look, but can’t deny that pearls go with everything and add class.

  9. i’m 24 and graduating law student- i have had a few strands of itty bitty pearls (round and baroque, about 16 inches long each) that were colored before, but i just got my first strand of classic white pearls last year when i thought my interview suits needed a little something- i didn’t think one bit about sizing v. age, but mostly wanted something that would suit my personality, but work with being a very young lawyer too
    my boyfriend and i hunted high and low, eventually went with a 32 inch strand of baroque pearls- i don’t know the mm on them, but their kind of large, but work because of the interesting baroque shape, and depending on my mood, i either double strand them (to a 16 inch) or go long, which ended up becoming trendy with the sex and the city movie. my favorite thing is to mix up my gray and other colored pearls with the white worn as a double strand- it makes for a fun age appropriate bit of layering, but helps me hold my own in a room full of 30+

  10. Is it just me or is this a purely east coast/southern thing? I never see pearls on the west coast and wouldn’t dream of wearing them with a t-shirt as one comment mentions…

    On this coast, I think you need to be old to wear pearls of any size or length.

    • I’ve never been to the West Coast, but it’s definitely both an East coast and Southern thing. In the South, especially – I’m a Southerner and in college, it was very common for girls (especially juniors and seniors) to wear pearls with EVERYTHING, including T-shirts to dress them up a bit for college functions. It was so much a part of my college’s ethos that people who are familiar with the college and know that I went there tease me and call me by the name of the college when I wear pearls with more casual outfits.

  11. Is it just me or is this a purely east coast/southern thing? I never see pearls on the west coast and wouldn’t dream of wearing them with a t-shirt as one comment mentions…

    As an Oregonian who went to school in California, I tend to agree. I’m sure there are exceptions, but by and large I would be very surprised to see a younger woman wearing pearls with a casual outfit and am not used to seeing younger women wearing them even with professional clothes.

  12. Size does matter! There’s something a bit pathetic when a senior partner wears the strand of pearls she received at her high school graduation that weigh in around 6 mm. Choose your jewelry and other accessories so they are in keeping with your physical stature AND status.

    Good quality pearls are expensive and the larger and more perfectly shaped, the more they cost. There are some great fakes out there, and don’t forget estate sales and pawn shops which happend to be full of great bargains these days.

  13. as the pearls with t-shirt wearer from earlier – we weren’t talking the old wash-the-car outfit! Nice, slim-fit tee as part of a dressed-up-casual outfit (nice jeans/flats/sweater-jacket). Associates of all ages wear them at my firm. But yes, I’d say definitely an eastern/southern thing, although

  14. As far as the regional question goes, I wore pearls all through high school and college in Southern California, but I was definitely the black sheep, to the point where it was a characteristic by which people knew me (“the girl who wears pearls”). Now that I’m on the East Coast for law school, I find myself not wearing them as much because everybody else always seems to be wearing a strand. They’re definitely more popular out here, but you can still get away with them on the west coast if you pair them with the right outfit. I wore them most often with a blazer and dark jeans, though I’ll also confess to having paired them with flip flops on more occasions than I’d prefer to remember.

  15. I’m on the west coast but grew up on the east coast, and I definitely notice a lack of pearls. I want to change that for me though. I’m wondering what kind of earrings to wear with pearls–do the earrings have to be pearls too? I feel like the silver hoops or studs I usually wear would look mismatched with a pearl necklace. Or am I just being silly?

    • Bmac Texas :

      I have a few 50″ strands of colored pearls that I wear with all sorts of casual clothes. I usually tie them in a loose knot or wear them doubled with a silver clip on one side. It is fun to play with different ideas. You can get some nice long strands of colored pearls for under $200.00. Not FINE but certainly nice enough for casual wear. They look great with sun dresses or with casual pants outfits.

  16. I used to think pearls were too traditional to fit my style, but I found a few ways to wear them that work for me:
    -I have a single (16″) strand that I like to combine with a longer vintage pendant necklace
    -I have a triple strand choker on a silver chain that I like to wear with funkier clothing
    -I have a loooong (costume) strand that I wrap around 3-4 times and combine with silver chains for those times I’m feeling a little Coco Chanel
    T

    Tamia´s last blog post..Style: Off the Wall

  17. Being in Southern California, I see some black pearls, but no white. Too preppy.

  18. There is a great blogger who posts on here sometimes – Privilege – and she just wrote about the what to wear with pearls thing. I don’t know how to link to it but perhaps someone else familiar with the blog (C?) could do so?

    Totally agree on the east coast/west coast thing btw. Anyone familiar with Europe? Do they do pearls over there? I love the idea of black pearls…

  19. LPC’s blog is amidlifeofprivilege.blogspot.com.

  20. So funny. I am researching as a follow up to my recent post on punking up your pearls and I Google “Why do Southern women wear pearls?” – which brings me to this post, and these comments. Wonderful.

  21. I love your blog. It’s great blog for women.

  22. I’m 27 and wear pearls all the time – they’re my birthstone too! I used to hate them until I turned 17 and then I realised the huge variety of colours they came in; I purchased black pearl studs and never looked back. I wore a cream double strand on my wedding day, which I still wear now layered up with pink or black ropes of pearls and my skinny jeans. I have green, chocolate, blue and gold too. In England they’re still considered a bit ‘stuffy’ and I am on a one woman mission to change that. I know I look fresh and modern in my pearls, people tell me so. Have confidence in your look and wear your pearls however you want.

  23. I live in mine. my faves are the pearl studs my husband bought me on our honeymoon and the 100″ 11 mm pearl strand I got from etsy.com

  24. Ladies, you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars for quality pearls. Pearlparadise.com has a Freshadama line that rivals the highest quality Akoyas and are all nacre! I promise, I’m not associated with them, just a very satisfied customer who happens to appreciate classic styling… Also, love the suiting tips on this website!! Keep it up!

    • I inherited my grandmother’s pearls – she had. 40″ necklace, 7mm and my mother had them re-knotted/strung and had two separate necklaces made (one for my sister). I’m juAt having trouble wearing them – I can’t tell if it’s too long AND small (7mm) that it will look unsophisticated in my firm where I meet HNW clients almost daily but I don’t want to just shelve them. Do they really at 7mm look immature? (I’m in late 30′s and have an avg/semi-large shoulder frame. :(

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