All of us ladies, young and old, have pearls – often gifted to us by our sisters, mothers, aunties, nanus and dadus. But, although they’re received with much ‘oooh-ing’ and ‘aaah-ing’, they are later put away in a drawer and totally forgotten. This is a great shame, as pearls can lift any outfit and suit everyone. Just look at the British Royal family – not only were pearls worn by the Queen’s mother, but the Queen, as well as her daughter Princess Anne, have been caught with pearls adorning their necks.
In the 1980s the late Princess Diana – then ‘Lady Di’ – was one of a group of well-to-do youngsters that frequented Sloane Square and surrounding areas in Chelsea – an exclusive part of London. Pearls were almost the uniform for the ladies. But of course, when Diana married Prince Charles and became the glamorous Princess of Wales, pearls gained wider popularity.
Yet again, with the marriage of Diana’s eldest son to Kate Middleton (now the Duchess of Cambridge) pearls have become a fashion must-have. Not only has the Duchess been spotted wearing pearls around her neck and on her ears, she has excited the fashion world by placing them in her hair!
There are three main types of pearl: natural (or wild), cultured, and imitation. Natural pearls are rarer and, naturally, expensive – meaning they are affordable only by the privileged few. But these days, cultured pearls are much more accessible.
Bangladesh is lucky to have a vibrant cultured pearl industry. This means that there are many sizes and colours available – and for those who live in Dhaka, necklaces can be made to order. As well as traditional white and cream, there are gold, pink, peach, lavender, lilac, green, grey and even ‘black’ pearls.
Everyone nowadays knows how real pearls are formed – when an irritant enters a mollusc. With cultured pearls, the irritant is introduced by man under carefully managed conditions. If you go into a shop selling pearls in Dhaka and ask if they’re real, often the shop assistant will smile but not say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ – instead he’ll tell you about free range chickens and factory farmed chickens……and maybe say his pearls are like the factory chickens!
In the West, pearl necklaces are sold in a variety of lengths and styles. The shortest are ‘dog collars’, which are about 12-13 inches long. Often these are multiple strings that sit above the neckline. These look particularly good with round-necked kamizes and saris that are worn high on the neckline. Next come the chokers (14-16 inches) which sit on the neckline. These tend to suit those who like to wear their saris a little high, as they are just visible. They also look nice with V-necked outfits. Princess length is 17-19 inches. These necklaces complement those who like to wear their saris a little lower, or they go well with low-necked outfits. They are good for wearing to the office, paired together with simple stud pearl earrings. Matinee pearls (20-24 inches) are your classic length. When wearing saris they sit against the edge, contrasting against the sari border. The longer opera (28-34 inches) and rope necklaces sit lower on the body. They are excellent for dressing up kamizes that are plain at the front, or for any sari, plain or patterned. These pearls are also excellent for ladies that wear hijab.
The huge variety of pearls means that you can wear them with almost every colour. Now, with the availability of strings of pearls interspersed with crystals or other jewels, as well as traditional gold sets, they can be plain or gorgeous, so will suit all tastes. Many shops also sell pearl necklaces with glamorous ‘fasteners’ that can be worn at the front – these can be inset with pearls, other stones, or diamantes. Ask vendors to thread pearls in alternating colours, or group colours together. If you’re feeling daring, ask him to thread half in one colour, the other in another – try a black and white combination for Ekushey February functions!
Finally, don’t forget that pearls are not just for the neck. You can get cultured or imitation pearl jewellery for your ears, your forehead, your wrists, your fingers and your hair. Pearls make beautiful brooches, which will enhance plain outfits (yes, you can wear several at a time) and pearl brooches can even be used to keep saris and headscarves in place.
Go ahead ladies, armed with this information from Punoh, pull out those pearls and look sizzling at your next party, dowaat or function!
Written by Julie for Punoh.
© Punoh, 2013.