Those of us who lived through the 1980s remember what fashion was like: electric colors, overlapping patterns, and billowing fabric. Every time we got dressed in the morning, we were The Fonz, looking to jump a shark.
It’s no surprise, then, that the era was nostalgic for the 1920s, when over-the-top had its own heydey.
Art Deco was shark week’s OG, and jewelry trend-setters in the 1980s found its fashion goddess: the flapper.
80s jewelry: Manufactured Art Deco brooches
The 1980s witnessed the beginning of the end of US-made costume jewelry.
At tool and die companies in New England, casts were made and distributed to the costume jewelers across the US, where those manufacturers would affix their own finishes and branding.
It wasn’t unusual to see the same piece of jewelry made and re-made by a variety of companies.
But before the end came, the 80s went, as expected, over the top.
Because technology and demand allowed, brooches were cast into all manner of complicated shapes and figures, from people and animals, to cars and household items like telephones, and sports paraphernalia.
Included were the fashionistas of bygone eras. This broad-shouldered, broad-hatted brooch features a bi-coastal city traveler. She could’ve chosen her outfit from a department store in the 1940s or the 1980s.
The 80s celebrated the 20s with more literal transportation-related jewelry that included the female form as an on-the-move independent woman.
This manufactured 80s brooch features a socialite in a cloche hat and driving costume with a classic car walking a Scottish terrier, all Art Deco design icons.
Manufactured flapper pins in 80s jewelry
Flappers specifically and Art Deco generally were a focus for manufacturers in 1980s jewelry. Cast metal flappers in profile were popular, either alone or paired with 1920s geometry, like this polychromatic, mixed metal brooch by Jonette (JJ).
The different finishes on the same metal – matte gold, bright silver, and black enamel – would’ve taken time and money.
Flapper pins made from metal also included polychromatic paint, like this one:
But again, because paint like this would’ve been applied by hand, it demanded more time and money than the simpler silhouette brooches above, where the scene is pictured from further back.
This turbaned woman with her yellow fur collar was the beginning of a trend in flapper pins, where faces were the focus, but the materials were less often metal.
80s handmade flapper pins with furs and fabrics
Hand-finished resin and ceramic flapper pins, often homemade, replaced manufactured metal ones. As the crafting industry grew, so too did the appearance of multimedia jewelry.
Heads both plain and pre-painted became available for adornment with felt, fur and fabric.
Multi-media brooches like these were not made by Monet, or any of the other large-scale brooch manufacturers in the later twentieth century. Very few of these brooches are hallmarked even by a boutique manufacturer.
One hint to their original production are repeating accessories like the little white mink above in two brooches, which seems to have been manufactured and distributed to a buying public.
Another hint is from the pins’ backsides.
This blond-braided brooch has a metal hinged clasp pad glued to the back. Metal pin pads like this one were manufactured and mass-distributed, either to small business designers or to in-home crafters.
Multimedia flapper pins in the 80s
Flapper pins like the fur and fabric designs above would seem to have demanded a relatively high effort and attention, compared to the standard mid-century costume jewelry.
That said, the setting of rhinestones and cabs in the tutti frutti and jelly belly styles also took time. Many of the surviving rhinestone jewelry was pavé set, each little piece of glass having its own set of prongs.
So, costume jewelers who mass produced weren’t unfamiliar with spending time on pieces, even when hundreds, maybe even thousands were planned to be made.
This brooch setting appears to have been manufactured due to the complicated array of AB rhinestones reminiscent of cocktail jewelry from the 30s through the 50s. On the other hand, it has a homemade feel.
Again, the back gives some hint as to the maker.
Had the setting been manufactured to receive bits of glass or plastic, there’s some reason to expect that the clasp would’ve been included, rather than glued.
Instead, this brooch is a putting together a variety of parts.
A hint that this style is part manufactured and part homemade is that the rhinestone cloche with the long side fringe shows up regularly in other flapper pin designs.
In fact, in addition to the shape of the rhinestone headdress, the lips of this flapper share a similar off-center smirk with her more flamboyant sister above.
As the trend progressed, flapper pins took on more and more the appearance of homemade.
I can imagine that painted faces and faces ready for paint began to appear for sale at five and dimes. Soon, they would be affixed to pin backs (and who knows what else…) and the decorated figures put on display at Christmas craft fairs and Crafty Lady socials.
This one signed and dated 1992 is an excellent example of what I mean.
80s Flapper pins from resin and molded plastics
Although 3D printing today allows for the individual artist to make complicated resin or plastic designs, technology in the 1980s didn’t support this style of cottage industry.
Some larger manufacturer would’ve likely been involved in the production of this piece…
…in spite of the janky glue job on the back.
This quintessential 80s style multi-media piece also appears manufactured rather than homemade.
Reminiscent of 80s artist Patrick Nagel, it sports a similarly sloppy backside, suggesting either that it was made on a factory line, or by someone who lacked high-end glue or skill.
Regardless of the Flapper Pin’s means of production, its collectibility, and my obvious fetish for it, I remain convinced that just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
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