THE NEW BOOK "Earrings: From Antiquity to the Present" points out that Tutankhamen had large holes pierced in his earlobes--proving that in ancient Egypt, earrings were worn by men as well as women.
Today, 3,300 years later, the fashion has been revived. Discreet studs twinkle at the earlobes of stockbrokers and stock clerks alike; outlandish ornaments dangle below the ears of art directors and electricians. MTV is crowded with earring-bedecked rockers, Bruce Willis appeared on the cover of January's Vanity Fair with four little gold loops in his left ear, and Ryan O'Neal showed up on the cover of the magazine's February issue with a single hoop in his right ear.
At the Melrose Avenue boutique Maya, which carries about 7,000 pairs of earrings, owner Ramon Rios recalls, "Three years ago at Halloween I had guys waiting in line to have their ears pierced. But this year I had no one, because it's no costume any more."
Rios estimates that, on average, 10 men a day, seven days a week, continue to troop through his doors to purchase their first earrings (Willis had his ear pierced there), and Rios thinks the trend hasn't peaked. Twenty years ago, his male customers were mostly Vietnam veterans and counterculture types, but that changed in the mid-'80s with the popularity of music videos; now, Rios says, the men who come in are simply "unclassifiable."
A man doesn't need any extra physical courage to have an ear pierced. Maya offers three methods, each patented by the manufacturer of a particular brand of starter earrings, or posts, and each free with the purchase of the earrings ($10). Essentially, a needle pierces the earlobe, and the post is inserted. All a man has to do is continue wearing the earring and clean it daily with hydrogen peroxide until the hole heals--typically in three or four weeks.
After that, a man's choice of what to wear is wide open. Rios says that bigger earrings are popular--perhaps because of videos, since costumers tell him that bigger "reads" better on television.
But which ear to pierce? The received wisdom is that straight men favor the left ear, while gay men prefer the right. On an early episode of Ryan O'Neal's new TV series, "Good Sports," co-star Farrah Fawcett quipped, "Have you ever thought of switching your earring to the heterosexual side?"
Richard Rouilard, editor-in-chief of the gay newspaper The Advocate, says that when many gay men began wearing earrings in the '70s, an earring in the right ear probably indicated some sexual preferences. But these days, he adds, that kind of signaling is largely "irrelevant."
And Crystal Cross--who pierces all kinds of body parts at her Red Devil Studios on La Brea--agrees. In fact, says Cross, the latest trend among her clients is to have both ears pierced. "Unfortunately," she says, "I think a lot of men copied George Michael's style."
Some men might want to think twice about having their ears pierced. Says John Molloy, author of the '70s bestseller "Dress for Success" who now lectures and conducts seminars on non-verbal communication: "In a standard business situation, wearing an earring is like wearing a noose, especially when you're dealing with men over 40. An earring to them is feminine. You can maybe get away with a pinkie ring, but an earring really rattles their cage."
At Maya, though, Rios and his wife, Wendy, have come up with ways to deal with the dilemma of the man who wants to look businesslike in his professional life and devil-may-care in his off hours. While his newly pierced ear is healing, they say, a man can cover the post with a small, round Band-Aid. Later, to camouflage the hole, he can insert a tiny ornament known as a nose bone and cover that with flesh-colored makeup.
And then there are ear cuffs, which don't involve the commitment of pierced ears. Most of these are ornaments, somewhat like loops with a small piece missing, meant to grip the outer rim of the ear. But a man can slide one down to his earlobe, and it will serve as an excellent facsimile of an earring, Rios says, "as long as he doesn't wrestle."