Costume jewelry became known as “costume” jewelry because of its use in stage costumes. Like its use on the stage, costume jewelry is a fashion accessory that is meant just to look good. It is often made of materials that are not considered valuable including glass, plastic and base metals. Gem stones are generally synthetic look-a-likes. Unlike precious jewelry, costume jewelry shouldn’t be considered to be an investment but some pieces may be considered worthy of being called a keepsake. Coco Chanel may have been the most recognized designer of costume jewelry pieces, but Kenneth Jay Lane created costume jewelry pieces that may have been among the most recognizable pieces. For instance, Lane created the three-strand pearl necklace worn by Barbara Bush at the inaugural ball. Vintage pieces of both Coco’s and Lane’s work sell for top dollar at top auction houses in New York including Christie’s and Sotheby’s.
Costume jewelry has a look, a style, an attitude all its own. In addition, it contains a great deal of information about the period of time it was created. For example, during the 1920s and 1930s there was a movement by artists toward a style known as Art Deco. This artistic movement is easily noted in costume pieces in the geometric designs. Long pendants and beading (think those worn by flappers) in either black and white or very bold colors were most evident. Pastels were almost non-existent.
Following the Art Deco designs, the Retro period brought a feeling of sophistication and peace. Flowers, military insignias, bows and sunburst designs were very prevalent in the costume jewelry of the period. Modernist artists followed the Retro period with styles that were understated and quietly classy. Theme based costume jewelry such as holiday specific pieces became so popular that there was a move toward mass production of the beautiful costume jewelry pieces.
In the interim years costume jewelry was more of an understated accessory to be seen and not heard. Recently, however, there has been a move toward bigger, more elaborate new costume jewelry pieces as well as collecting older, vintage pieces. Style, fashion, and attitudes that are remarkably personal in their costume jewelry fashion statements.