It’s a little known fact, but men began wearing earrings before women. Earrings were worn for a number of reasons, including religious beliefs, country of origin and the era. There are also many myths surrounding the practice, such as wearing an earring in the right ear denotes homosexuality.
There is evidence that shows the practice of men wearing earrings predates biblical times. Otzi the Iceman, the oldest European mummy known to date and who was thought to have died in 3300 BC, was discovered wearing an earring. Carvings from the ancient city of Persepolis show men wearing earrings at the time of the Persian Empire.
Earrings were popular among both men and women until the Early Middle Ages, but then the practice died down until the Renaissance period. Depictions of men wearing earrings throughout the Middle Ages tend to indicate that the person wearing them was different or exotic.
During the Renaissance, earrings were worn by men to indicate status and wealth. Ironically, years later they would be worn by slaves to show they were owned by a master.
In the 20th century, thanks to the hippy movement, punk rock and numerous male public figures sporting piercings, the act of wearing an earring went from symbol of rebellion to simple fashion statement.
Early piercings were probably carried out to repel evil forces, as ancient tribes believed that metal prevented evil from entering the body. It was also thought that piercing the earlobe helped maintain healthy eyesight and hearing, and can be considered a very primitive form of acupuncture.
Pierced ears were popular among sailors, who believed that wearing earrings would guarantee them a decent burial should they die at sea and be washed up on shore. Whoever found their bodies would take their jewelry as payment. Therefore it was not unusual for sailors to spend a fair amount of money on gold earrings, due to these superstitions.
In the late 1960s, the hippy movement made earrings on men a symbol of rebellion and non-conformism. Particularly in the following decade with the advent of punk rock, this would become a huge part of youth culture, and multiple piercings became favored with men and women.
In the '80s, wearing an earring in the right ear meant the wearer was a homosexual, but an earring in the left meant the wearer was straight. This was common up until the mid '90s, but is no longer the case. In part thanks to famous pop stars, men wearing earrings today has no more significance in the Western world than choosing to wear a watch.
In India, girls and some boys have their ears pierced during a religious ceremony before the age of 5.
Depictions of pharaohs, buddhas and Aztec figures often show stretched earlobes. Wearing dangling, heavy jewelry denoted wealth, and therefore status, separating royalty from the rest of the population.