Tracing the evolution of wearing gold, here’s a discussion on whether gold is tacky or tasteful, the psychology behind our choices and how to actually pull it off.
“Is gold tacky?” has a whole section of the internet dedicated to it. A Reddit thread titled, “most things made of gold are tacky, tasteless and ugly,” states that golden phones, cars, or accessories are “just gross” and many comments agree that they are “gaudy” or “cringe”. Add many Quora questions to this discussion, and a whole study by World Gold Council done in 2019.
Covering 18,000 respondents, the WGC study found that Gen-Zers are less likely to invest in gold because they don’t place gold high up as a fashion item. Unlike previous generations, they don’t have an emotional connection with it. After us millennials killed one industry after another, maybe Gen-Z will kill the gold industry.
Even ChatGPT agrees. I asked it if gold is trendy or tacky, and it mentioned in its reply, “[Gold is a fashion weapon]; when wielded without finesse, it can veer into the territory of kitsch.” Wow.
The Enigma of Gold in Fashion
Even though style is a very personal thing, many Gen-Zers view ostentatious use of gold as outdated or tacky. This generation tends to lean towards more minimalistic and understated aesthetics.
And this perception of gold is not limited to Gen-Z. Generations before them have considered gold as a gaudy choice, both as a hue and a metal. Carrie Bradshaw threw up when she saw her engagement ring from Aiden Shaw in Sex and the City. “It had a gold band,” she testily mentioned to her friends later.
Real Gold or Knockoff: A History
In India, gold is a very important part of weddings and bridal trousseaus. You’ll find gold jewelry agelessly in most Indian wardrobes, often accompanied by gilded saree blouses, gold embellished dresses or special occasion gold-toned purses. Even ancient Indian statues show gold jewelry on the figures, and Vedic texts mention threads of gold woven into cloth. From golden chariots to golden deer, both the metal and color have a lot of cultural significance here.
In other cultures too, traditionally, gold was a status symbol. During the reign of Henry VII of England, the use of gold was highly exclusive and reserved for royalty and the upper echelons of nobility. In 1400s, lamé, or metallic cloth became popular for the masses. But it wasn’t until the boom of textile mills in America in the 1800s that gold became an everyday thing for everyone.
The Roaring Twenties finally made flapper gold dresses a choice for party women. Gold has a knack for demanding attention, and this is the reason why everyone from pole-dancers to Marilyn Monroe to hip-hop stars love wearing gold.
As wealth disparity decreased, it became common for more and more people to afford, and therefore wear gold. And when exclusivity reduces, things go out of fashion.
That’s why in modern western fashion, gold comes and goes as a “trend”. Brands in all categories play with metallic colors, pop culture setting trends from gold to silver to black gold to rose gold, be it in iPhones, engagement rings or eyeshadow. And then magazines like yours truly come up with headlines like, “Silver is the new gold,” every five years or so.
Gold’s reputation for tackiness extends its shimmering tendrils into the realm of interiors as well. Many people consider gold to be tacky on walls, furniture or light fixtures. And an all-gold interior? It’s like being trapped in King Midas’s extravagant fever dream! However, with the return of art deco, perhaps we’ll see the revival of gold in architecture and interiors too.
The Psychology behind Gold’s Tacky Perception
The sheer ostentation of gold can sometimes cross the line into the realm of excessive bling, triggering those tackiness alarms. Why though?
It all comes down to money and affordability. The term “Gold Digger“, for example, cleverly intertwines the concept of gold with the metaphorical quest for fortune.
The hip hop culture is most unapologetic in both its desire and display of wealth. Gold jewelry literally takes center-stage in rapper fashion, often referred to as “bling”. Hip hop artists embrace this aesthetic, using their lyrics to celebrate the allure of gold and its representation of success.
For example, the song “All Gold Everything” by Trinidad James goes like this, “I’m getting gold all in my chain, Gold all in my ring, Gold all in my watch, Don’t believe me just watch.” Hip hop culture’s obsession with gold is a reflection of the genre’s roots in urban communities, where aspirational success and the desire for financial security have long been driving forces.
Amazon Original TV show Farzi (translating to ‘fake’) is all about money. In the backdrop of counterfeiting, the rags to riches story is actually a candid discussion on the psychology of what we consider to be real or fake.
Art forger Sunny, played by Shahid Kapoor, is selling a replica of Van Gogh on his street shop in the opening scene. “Will it look real if I hang it in my house?” a customer asks him. “If you can afford a hundred crore painting, it’ll look real,” Sunny retorts.
Perhaps younger generations find gold a tacky choice because they know they can’t afford the real deal yet. If you wear gold when you’re young, it’ll seem like a cheap-looking, tasteless knockoff. Maybe the key to wearing gold tastefully is looking like you can afford it.
In the famous opening scene of 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Audrey Hepburn walks wearing the iconic Givenchy black dress, decked in a multi-layered pearl necklace, and stares into the display of gold jewelry through the windows of Tiffany’s. In another scene, her character Holly Golightly mentions, “Not that I give a hoot about jewelry. Diamonds, yes. But it’s tacky to wear diamonds before you’re forty.”
In our subconscious, gold is more for the older people (yes, I’m 39 and I type this article wearing gold earrings, which I’d have scoffed at in my twenties). Even in pop culture, older, more successful characters are often portrayed wearing gold.
While Carrie in Sex and the City despises gold, her older and more confident friend Samantha’s style frequently features gold – golden bags, hoops, belts and skirts. While Samantha struck that golden balance between extravagance and sophistication (pun intended), Carrie is also shown with a lot of gold in her outfits in the SATC movies. The gold sunglasses, gold shoes and accents on her dress work better when she’s older and more successful.
Most Iconic Gold Fashion Moments in History
If fashion is a glittering maze, you’ll find gold everywhere when you navigate it. This shimmering hue has adorned runways, celebrities, and pop culture for decades. There have been many iconic fashion moments that have left an indelible mark over the last 100 years.
One of the earliest, perhaps is Chanel’s 2.55 bag – one of the most famous bag designs in the world. Designed by Coco Chanel to free up her hands in 1955, it combined leather with a gold chain. Up until 2008, the bags used 24-k gold-plated hardware too, including its iconic interlocking CC logo.
Marilyn Monroe’s iconic dress deserves a mention here too, which she wore in 1962 to sing ‘Happy Birthday, Mr. President’ for then President John F. Kennedy. The flesh-colored see-through dress had thousands of gold crystals, and recently created controversy when Kim Kardashian wore borrowed it from Ripley’s museum to wear it for the 2022 ‘Gilded Glamour’ themed Met Gala.
90s were an era of golden excess. Michael Jackson was a big fan of both military-inspired fashion as well as gold hardware. From gold leotards to gold turtlenecks, some of his famous stage costumes featured gold accents in the 90s.
Madonna’s golden cone bra: Madonna’s cone bra, designed by Jean Paul Gaultier for her “Blond Ambition” tour in 1990, fused provocative fashion with golden allure, leaving an indelible mark on pop culture.
Elizabeth Hurley’s safety-pin dress: Elizabeth Hurley’s iconic Versace safety-pin dress at the 1994 premiere of Four Weddings and a Funeral became an instant sensation, showcasing the allure of gold accents.
Restraint is a subtle art, but when it comes to the most iconic gold moments in history, fashion knows no restraint. Beyoncé’s frequent use of gilded dresses is a great example. One of her most memorable looks was at the 2017 Grammy’s – a shimmering gold gown with a goddess headpiece, which solidified her status as a style icon.
Gossip Girl’s famous rich party girl Serena van der Woodsen, played by Blake Lively, wore many gold looks that made the color very trendy back in 2000s and early 2010s. From her first date dress with Dan to her cotillion dress, from her gold jacket in the Chuck-finding scenes and even her wedding dress in the series finale, she made gold a modern fashionista’s choice.
Lady Gaga has worn many gold looks over the years. But her white and gold dress with feathered headgear was one of the most avant-garde. Designed by Alexander McQueen, she wore it at Bambi Media Awards in 2011.
Wearing Gold without Looking Tasteless
In the grand tapestry of fashion, gold has left an indelible mark. It’s a color that continues to shine through the ever-evolving fashion landscape. But gold is no stranger to controversy.
So what exactly is “tacky”? The perception of tackiness can often be influenced by cultural shifts, trends, and personal preferences. What may be considered tacky today could be celebrated as a fashion statement tomorrow.
Gold in Your Everyday Life
How you style gold also depends on the occasion. Of course, we’ve seen countless head-to-toe gold looks on the red carpet and onscreen. However, nobody likes a whole outfit to be drenched in gold on the streets. But how to wear it IRL?
Real-life looks should be carefully put together instead of indulging in whimsical extravagance. The first step is to choose quality items that don’t look cheap in the first place. So pay attention to the detailing, quality of material or fabric, stitching or polishing.
When gold is used sparingly, it has the power to add a touch of luxurious charm. One of the best ways to wear gold is to choose one dainty, geometric jewelry piece and pair it with a black or white dress. The next step would be to add a neat little black bag with gold accents. Go for clean lines and basic items to keep it sophisticated.
Take, for instance, the classic pairing of a simple black dress with a tiny gold pendant. The contrast between the understated colors and the gleam of gold creates a harmonious balance, so it also goes well with warm neutral shades like beige or syrup.
If you wanna be more adventurous, go for extra-long gold earrings, gold hair pins or skinny belt for a party. The recent resurgence of metallic gold in streetwear culture has made people be fearless with its use, with gold sunglasses, heels and even gold-infused sportswear.
Gold for Special Occasions
For a more Instagram-worthy moment like a photo-shoot or your birthday party, you can try something over-the-top like a gold headband, a gilded mini bag or a statement gold necklace. I would still reserve gold lame clothing for stage-shows or one-off occasions.
Fashion is like yoga where you have to be mindful of balance. An overdose of gold accessories or clothing can come across as gaudy. So it’s best to try one gold item at a time, so that your outfit doesn’t turn into a gaudy golden spectacle. But yet fashion rules are meant to be broken. So it’s really all about experimenting and trying new things to find out what you’re comfortable with.
So, I hope this discussion inspired you to try something in gold. If it did, I’d love to see your ‘fits and gold accessories, so do tag me on Instagram @shilpaahujadotcom. Gold is a versatile color that can transition from extravagant to refined, depending on who you are and how you project yourself through it.
As we navigate the ever-changing tides of style, let’s not shy away from gold, whether it is in accessories, jewelry or clothing. Remember, the audacious exploration of your own personal flair makes your true, unique style.
Shilpa Ahuja the editor-in-chief of ShilpaAhuja.com, which she founded with the goal of inspiring confidence in the modern working woman through fashion. Other than defining the direction of the magazine, she also writes about fashion & beauty trend forecasts, industry analysis, and opinions.
Shilpa’s work has been published in the University of Fashion blog and Jet Airways magazine. She is also an artist, illustrator and cartoonist. She is also the creator of Audrey O., a comic series that represents the lifestyle of millennial women. She enjoys creative writing and world travel. Her art has been exhibited at Harvard Graduate School of Design and the Aroma Hotel, Chandigarh and been published in Chandigarh Times.
Originally from Chandigarh, Shilpa also has a degree in architecture and has worked in interior project management. She is also the author of the book “Designing a Chinese Cultural Center in India”. Shilpa has a Masters in Design Studies degree from Harvard University.
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