Let's Put a Pin In It

Let's Put a Pin In It

By Ruby Wortis

By now you know that I tend to hyper-fixate on extremely specific things, especially when it comes to fashion and history and womanhood and the like. I have been looking to expand Rudie’s catalog in the jewelry department, and have really been gravitating towards repurposed household objects as bling. Nails and spoons curled into rings, bike chains, fishing line… the list goes on.

One inanimate object that has been on my mind more than any other is the humble safety pin. Or maybe it’s not humble. Threatening? Badass? Here again I find myself blabbing to everyone I meet about how seemingly innocuous things become political statements when they are put on our bodies. If I ever was to give a TedTalk, it would be about how we express our politics and our worldview via our closets, but it would be very few facts and just me, dripping sweat, pointing at a corkboard covered in red string.


A safety pin is just an object without connotation. Yet the moment you attach it to your clothing, it’s punk rock. Why is that?? When did it become that?? Are there exceptions to this rule?? Let’s talk about it.

~~~~dooo dooo doooo going back in time noises doo dooo dooo~~~~

The safety pin was invented by an actual Inventor. Like, his job was to think of things that had not yet been invented and then… invent them. His name was Walter Hunt and in 1849 he owed someone $15 (about $600 today, but knowing about inflation makes this story less charming). He needed a cheap-to-make and easy-to-use product that could fly off the shelves and make him some quick cash, so he fiddled with a piece of wire. He came up with the clasping mechanism to protect the wearer from the pokey part, and the modern safety pin was born.

Before Hunt, clothing pins looked more like brooches or regular straight sewing pins. Picture the Hand of the King pin from Game of Thrones. Sometimes ornate, but always pokey. These are some silver pins from the 15th century:

Hunt’s invention really grew in popularity as a cheap war-time fix for old or ripped clothes and as a safe option for securing cloth diapers.

a frugal woman’s fix for an old coat, taken by Lisa Larsen for LIFE, 1947
From a Maytag advertisement published in TIME, 1944

There is a simple but persistent circle that accompanies punk rock as a musical genre and punk rock as a fashion statement. If your lifestyle is making music that won’t be played on the radio and sticking it to the man by working a shitty job, you end up having to do a lot yourself. Need a haircut? Sit with a friend on the front stoop and let them chop your hair with dull scissors. Only have money for one pair of shoes? You’ll need something durable - combat boots make sense. Your jacket ripped? Just throw a safety pin on it, who cares what it looks like?

Then comes the fascinating part. All of these small choices, at first made by necessity, begin to represent your lifestyle. Suddenly your choppy haircut, beat-up Doc Marten’s, and safety-pin-clad clothes become a way to communicate to the world that you are not to be fucked with. People even begin reverse engineering the process, purposefully safety-pinning their pants and combat-booting their feet without that initial necessity. And now, putting a safety pin on a denim jacket adds an element of edginess, even if the jacket cost the same as my rent.

Punks in London, 1971

Let’s look at some of the ways safety pins have been used in modern fashion. Of course, we have to start with Elizabeth Hurley iconically outshining her boyfriend (Thee Hugh Grant) at his own movie premiere. This dress is Versace. Silk and lycra. Arguably responsible for launching Hurley into it-girl-dom.

Hugh Who?

Vivienne Westwood, the patron saint of Punk in Fashion, includes safety pins quite often in jewelry. The juxtaposition of pearls and diamonds with the safety pin, almost as if the necklace broke and you were holding it together with something from the junk drawer. I love them and I would like to be buried in one, please and thank you.

In 2016, Maison Margiela (under the creative direction of infamous antisemite John Galliano) showed a collection that used safety pins in a manner contradictory to how we would normally think of them. These safety pin embellishments were beautifully serene and poetic.

Maison Margiela SS2016

Jewelry designer Judy Blame took safety pin accessories to a maximalist place. It’s interesting to me that the more he loads onto a piece, the less they stand out as safety pins. I do wonder how heavy that necklace would be.

And of course, to take us home, Moschino. The undeniable champion of pushing a bit to its limit. They even have the diaper clip!

 Want to recreate the look yourself? Check out our safety pin earrings and choker.

xx Ruby

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