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Earrings Pierce the Sex Barrier

August 20, 1987|RHONDA BRIGHT

Once they were for women only, a feminine fashion detail that men used at their own risk, and then only in an ear that wouldn't send the wrong message. But earrings for men have come a long way since fishermen wore them to show they'd survived a shipwreck, and since hippies sported them to be anti-Establishment.

Men's earrings still encounter some flickers of disapproval, and they are by no means widely accepted in conservative business environments. Yet more and more men are wearing them, and a stud in the earlobe can no longer be taken as a statement of a man's rebellion against society, much less his sexual orientation.

'Lots of Guys Wear Earrings'

"It's a trend, and it's gradually getting higher," said Grace Dulnuan, manager of Maya, a jewelry store on Melrose Avenue that caters to single-earring buyers. "The movie media and music videos show lots of guys wearing earrings. Little kids grow up and want their ear pierced, they want to be those people on the TV screen."

Take, for instance, Stephen Poe, a Canoga Park writer of corporate films and high-tech videos. He got tired of suiting up to stodgy, corporate-style dressing. So he now wears whatever he feels like to free-lance jobs, and has traded his tie (for good, he adds) for an earring.

Like Poe, Matthew Ross, a Westwood-based electrical-system designer for hotels, wears an earring to work, but tries to remember to pull it out when he attends client meetings. "It's an extra added factor I don't need possibly working against me," he confesses. "It gives you a tad less credibility."

Juan Price, a Torrance construction worker, wore a diamond-stud earring on the job for six years, but decided to go without it at his new construction outfit, "which is a much bigger and stricter company." Instead, he settles for wearing the earring on weekends and at social occasions.

Men who wore earrings used to have to buy them in women's sections, or handcraft their earrings themselves, as Poe does. But within the last five to seven years, boutiques along Melrose Avenue and in other trendy sections have begun featuring single earrings. And some fine-jewelry shops and major department stores will sell a single earring stud with a diamond or other gem.

The idea got popular "in the late '70s to early '80s, kind of when punk started," said Sheri Magid, who has worked for 10 years at Imperial Drug Co., one of few advertisers in the Los Angeles Yellow Pages under "Ear Piercing."

"You had a lot of rebellious types doing it then," she said, "but now it's become more of a norm. You see a lot of preppies and college students doing it." And, she added, musicians are especially into the fashion.

Why would a man want to decorate his earlobe?

"We're holdovers from the old days, ex-hippies," said 52-year-old Brian Lantin, owner of a picture-frame shop in West Hollywood.

Price said: "It's a rebellion thing: Dress the way you want. A lot of people think earrings are effeminate. So if you think you're a big enough man, you can put one on and no one is going to tell you anything. I can handle it OK."

Ross, 34, pierced his ear on the last day of his 29th year. "I was close to 30, my hair was falling out so I couldn't grow it long. I was thinking about aging. I was trying not to feel too over-the-hill." The earring succeeded in making him feel younger "for about 20 minutes," he said.

"I think a lot of people that came out of Vietnam did it," he added. "It's a little bit of a vague identification to an era--identification with a culture that was slightly offbeat."

Poe believes it's an expression of a desire to be different, and he said he has found that an earring can be an asset in the creative arena. . . . It helps cast an image of artistry.

"Some corporate types think if you're a writer, you have to look a little different. And that if you don't look a little different, you can't be creative," he said.

The degree of acceptance sometimes depends on the generation.

"The younger people find it's so common it's nothing, it's passe now," said Price, 27. "The older guys (which he defined as 40-plus) get a kick out of it. It stigmatizes to them that you're a doper or a homosexual."

Bill Saleebey of Marina del Rey noticed that attitudes about men wearing earrings varied among occupations. He got his ear pierced at 36 when he was a community college psychology professor and wore it to classes for four years.

"It was a liberal enough environment that it was accepted," he said.

Now a salesperson for a moving company, he has quit wearing the earring. "It would without a doubt hurt my credibility in sales," said the 40-year-old Saleebey.

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