Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Appalachian Words -- EARBOBS

Fashion is important to everyone, including the people of Southern Appalachia. Fashion goes beyond the clothes you wear. Accessories have always been the items that turn a flour sack dress into your Sunday finest attire.

One of the most common accessories for mountain women was a pair of EARBOBS. Today, we refer to them as earrings.

EARBOBS were a woman's prized possession. Even though they probably came from the local Five and Dime, she treasured them as fine jewelry. There's just something about putting on those EARBOBS that made her feel special.

Screw-back earbob
Many years ago, most EARBOBS were fastened to the earlobe by a screw back. I've worn a few pairs myself and I can tell you they are generally not comfortable. If you don't tighten them enough, one might drop off and you would lose your prized possession. So, you tighten that screw until your earlobe turns red and throbs with pain. The cost of fashion.

Clip earbobs
Another type of EARBOB used a clip on the back like the decorative clips that could be used on shoes to fancy them up. Although not as painful as the screw-type backs, clips left an impression on your ear, too. They are still worn by women who don't have pierced ears -- and actors who portray women of the 50s. I know that from experience.

One of the highlights in my life was when I made the switch from screw-type and clip EARBOBS to posts or wire EARBOBS. The problem with the new type of EARBOBS was that wearing posts and wires required enduring the painful process of piercing your earlobes.

The memory of my piercing still lingers strongly in my mind.

I invited a couple of girlfriends over to my house who had experience in piercing. I wanted to make sure the holes were placed in the right spot, so I chose friends wisely.

We started with an ice cube. You wouldn't believe, unless you've done this yourself, how painful holding an ice cube to your earlobe is. I never expected it because I thought the ice would numb my ear, not make it hurt like crazy. Good thing my friend was holding the ice to my ear (with a wash rag) because I would have chickened out and thrown the ice away.

The needle and thread
Next came the needle. A huge needle. Threaded with white cotton thread. My friend, Linda, held me down and jabbed that needle right through my earlobe and tied off the thread before I could scream.

"Done!" She let me go. I tried to stand and check it in the mirror. My knees wobbled and the room spun. I thought I would pass out. I gazed into the mirror and saw the thread knotted front and back sticking out of the red hole.

The complication with piercing your ears is that when the first one is completed, you have to muster the courage to finish the job. Another session with the ice, followed by that same needle, and the knotting of the thread.

My earbob piercing
I survived my piercing! And the holes were evenly placed on both lobes.

Then came the healing process. I carried around a bottle of camphor oil for days and kept my lobes clean as I pulled the thread back and forth through the holes. If you don't move the thread often, the ear will heal around the thread and you'll have to rip it out or cut it out. Then you must go through the entire process again. I made sure I took extremely good care of those ears.

How we suffer for the sake of fashion.

Crazy piercings for earbobs
Nowadays, they shoot a hole through your earlobes - or any other body part - and inject an EARBOB directly into the hole. At least I have an interesting memory.

EARBOBS are still an integral part of any woman's wardrobe -- and many men's wardrobes as well. Maybe I'm too old, but I don't see the beauty behind covering your body in holes so you can insert EARBOBS. Especially in your nose and tongue! Yes, the idea of beauty has changed for many over the years.

Did you go through the ice, needle, and thread method of piercing? Have you added more piercings to your body since then? I'd love to hear your stories.


  1. What a story! When I got my first piercings it was similar to this, but not with thread. Later as I collected more I learned that the method had improved substantially. I have 7 piercings now and the last 3 hurt a lot less! They use a hollow needle -- you barely feel it.

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  4. I have some if my grandmother's ear bobs, as they are called back then. How much are they worth? The one set are the pearls with the diamonds?