How Experimenting With Jewellery Helped Me Understand My Relationship With Masculinity

Contributor: Ben Freeman

Jewellery has the ability to do the talking for you and your style. A chunky necklace, a statement earring, or a delicate bracelet can all be signals far beyond their aesthetics. 

My relationship with jewellery is forever adjusting itself based on how masculine or feminine I’m feeling on any given day. It’s something that genuinely excites me and I really do look forward to setting it all out for the day when I wake up, but it took a while to get to this point.

I decided to leave Australia in 2019 for my big eat-pray-love, quarter-life crisis, trip of a lifetime to Europe. I had dropped out of uni the year prior, started and failed to look for full-time jobs and needed to flee from the cagey confines of my (genuinely lovely) hometown, Cronulla. 

Up until this point, my sense of style was as palatable as possible. Yes, I was hypothetically out and proud as a young gay man, but my white button-ups and ill-fitting beige chinos at Northies might’ve painted a different picture. My first stop was Barcelona, where I was to meet my now best friend and work wife, Joss at a music festival. We went shopping around the streets of the city, buying cheap second-hand outfits for the festival and drinking Mojitos on our breaks.

We stumbled into this convenience store to grab some water and found a weird tray filled with clips and chains. We pulled out a literal dog chain and a love heart-shaped keyring, both only a euro each, and joined the two together to create obnoxious, clunky, yet powerful necklaces for us both. I had never jumped into the world of jewellery prior to this point, but reassurance from Joss and the liberty of being anonymous in a new city made me feel confident in the slight divergence from my typical style.

As well as my new necklace, I also wore eye shadow for the first time the next day, and as fickle as this might sound now, a muscle-tee also made a first-time appearance. I stepped into the festival, surrounded by thousands of other people, a lot of them queer, feeling more myself than I ever had before. The necklace was a gateway, of sorts, to figuring out who I was and how I wanted to present that to the world.

In the following months, I hopped around Europe, continuing to eat and pray and also love, before ending up in the gay mecca that is Berlin. During my time there, I experimented with chains made out of pull ring tabs from soft drink cans, big, cheap pearls from German op-shops, but for the most part, always went back to my love chain from Barcelona; clinging and clanging against my chest as I danced through clubs. 

On one particular day, sitting at a Berlin cafe, I received a Facebook memory from when I had come out as gay two years prior (I am well aware of how incredibly Gen Z this sounds). My friends and I decided to make a day of the celebration, a gay birthday of sorts, and skipped around the city drinking beer, eating cake, and eventually finding myself in the chair about to get my ear pierced. He put in the classic first piercing sleeper hoop as my friends sat giggling like they were in a classroom.

I remember looking in the mirror, wearing a bulky leather jacket, my first ever moustache growing above my lip, a chain around my neck and a tiny hoop in my ear, feeling completely different to the boy who had jumped on the plane from Sydney a few months earlier. This new knowledge that I could be whoever I wanted to be, forever and ever, felt like magic.

Whilst I would like to give 100% unequivocal credit to myself for being the first man ever to wear a necklace, this journey of self-discovery was most likely made easier by countless men and non-binary people who have historically used jewellery as a form of self-expression.

Over the past few years, we’ve had people like Harry Styles blurring the lines between masculine and feminine with the jewels all around his body. Connel’s chain in the series Normal People created arguably more of a moment than the character himself, or Donte Colley, Instagram dancer/dreamboat fronting the historically female-skewed jewellery brand Pandora for its new Pandora Me collection, alongside tastemakers like Charli XCX and Addison Rae. Seeing someone like Colley front and centre in a brand like Pandora, adorned in chains and charms, is liberating for all people wanting to take the jump into expressing themselves in a way that feels bold. Juggling masculinity and femininity to the masses isn’t easy, but he does it with ease.

Whilst my story and relationship with jewellery directly intersects with my queerness, the tides seem to be turning when it comes to normalising fun, audacious jewellery for all men, and all people.