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What is Costume Jewelry?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 21, 2024
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Costume jewelry is jewelry made from inexpensive metals and imitations of precious stones. It tends to be flashy and sometimes over the top with gaudiness, although subdued costume jewelery that is designed to imitate more upscale jewelry is also available. This type of jewelry is popular among fashion and set designers, as well as people who want to have a little bit of fun with their accessorizing. It can be found in vintage stores as well as retail stores specializing in accessories.

Originally used as props, costume jewelry originated on stage sets. Jewelry for the stage was designed to be larger than life so that it would be visible to the audience, and it was a cheap way to make the set for a stage production more rich and lively. Some actors became attached to these gaudy additions to their costumes, and started wearing it off the stage as well. For someone of lower income, it can be a way to dress up without spending too much money.

Costume jewelry is not always cheap. Vintage jewelry and faux Victorian jewelry can be quite expensive, even if it is not made from materials of top quality. While faux jewelery can be fun, it can also be used as a serious fashion statement, and has a long history on the runway after being popularized by designers like Coco Chanel. Some jewelry designers specialize in costume jewelry that is worn by the rich and famous for a variety of reasons: fashion, security, or a sense of fun. Many individuals who own famous or expensive pieces of jewelry will have costume replicas made for more casual wear, so that they do not run the risk of losing an irreplaceable piece of jewelry.

This type of jewelry usually starts with a base metal such as tin. The metal is treated to resemble a more expensive metal such as gold, silver, or platinum. Traditionally, fake stones made from glass or paste were used; however, some costume jewelry uses real gemstones that are less expensive versions of their precious counterparts. Usually, the “stones” used are large and involve flashy cuts.

Costume jewelry is made in all sorts of styles from Victorian inspired brooches to imitation pearl necklaces. Rings, bracelets, earrings, and other jewelry accessories all come in costume as well as regular form. It can also be made at home by enterprising craftspeople and can be a fun project for kids as well.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a BeautyAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By wecallherana — On Oct 25, 2010

@baileybear - That is good advice! I am getting married in June and I couldn't tell you how much I have stressed over finding timeless jewelry for my gown at a decent price. With all the major details of the wedding taken care of you get to a frantic point with all the smaller details and I hadn't even thought about jewelry until I tried my dress on for my last fitting.

By baileybear — On Oct 25, 2010

@leiliahrune - You are totally right. Bridal costume jewelry though can be kind of tricky because even the costume kind can still be pretty pricey... depending on where you go. If you go out looking for costume jewelry earrings and then couple it with a real white gold necklace, though, you should be sure that they not only go together and/or match, but also that the costume jewelry piece is durable and not chipping or fading in its coating(s).

By leiliahrune — On Oct 25, 2010

@ChickenLover - Even though Sterling Silver is fairly affordable, I don't think most people consider it costume jewelry. The whole term is based off the absence of the use of precious metals like Silver (gold, platinum, etc). So you would be looking for things like the article described above. Such as tin coated in silver in order to look like real Silver. Bridal costume jewelry is probably the most popular example of this since bridal jewelry can get really quite expensive.

By ChickenLover — On Oct 25, 2010

So would sterling silver be considered costume jewelry? I see it in the stores all the time and I would consider it fashion costume jewelry myself, but I have heard people say otherwise... yes? No?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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