A few weeks ago, I was shopping at my favorite “superstore,” the kind that has everything from endless aisles of groceries to smaller departments with miscellaneous items such as clothing, patio furniture, and anything you would ever need for a new baby.
And then there is another department that is simply magnetizing for me. It’s the one with all sorts of great accessories – scarves, handbags, watches, sunglasses, and my personal favorite…jewelry. The best part about it all is the nice low price tag on most everything they sell.
After I finished finding all of the food items on my list, I went to see what new jewelry had come in that week. I immediately spotted a necklace that had the look of something vintage. It reminded me of a few of my old pieces from the 1950s and ’60s that I had repurposed into sparkly rings and cuffs. The name for this look is the “starburst.”
I love this design and was curious about how it came to be so popular years ago. Here is what I discovered after a bit of research…
The Atomic Age
Between the 1940s and ’60s, there were major concerns about nuclear war due to political and military tension after World War II between the Western Bloc (the United States and its NATO allies) and the Eastern Bloc (the Soviet Union and its allies). It is also known as the Cold War. It is termed “cold” because there were no major battles between the two sides.
This period is also known as the Atomic Age which influenced architectural and interior design as well as fine arts. It brought both anxiety and optimism to American society. While the power of atomic energy was very destructive, it held energy that was thought to be the basis of a new kind of modern civilization if properly harnessed.
Geometric atomic patterns began to be produced in home decor, china, wallpaper, curtains, furniture upholstery, and flatware patterns, to name a few. This look became very popular and instantly recognizable with its use of atomic motifs in so many different household items. Here are some of the atom-shaped light fixtures from that time:
You can still find vintage home decor items today with an atomic motif if you look for them. Last week, as I was walking through an antique store, I spotted this vintage starburst clock on the wall – straight out of the Atomic Age as a true Cold War relic!
Googie Style Architecture
This look began to be used in architectural design, also called Googie, a form of modern architecture influenced by both the Atomic Age and the Space Age.
Upswept roofs, curvy, geometric shapes, and the use of glass, steel, and neon were all characteristic of Googie. You would also frequently see symbols of motion such as flying saucers, boomerangs, and atoms, representing American society’s fascination with this futuristic style. This theme could often be seen in motels, diners, gas stations, bowling alleys, and coffee shops:
Starbursts were common ornaments with Googie style. One of the most notable is the one that appears on the famous “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign:
This style of architecture is not as easy to find anymore. As Googie design became less valued over the years, many of the buildings in this style have unfortunately been demolished.
Accessorizing in the Atomic Age
The Atomic Age captured society’s fascination as well as its fears about nuclear power during World War II. The American fashion industry cashed in on this, mass-producing the look for women to accessorize with what was all the rage at that time.
During the war, women had to perform tasks in the workforce that had previously been male-dominated. Once the war was over, roles and fashions were redefined, emphasizing beauty through femininity.
The rules of etiquette during the 1950s dictated that a fashionable woman must dress well, completing her look with jewelry to be socially acceptable. Brooches, necklaces, and bracelets became popular accessories, and those that represented the Atomic Age were a favorite choice.
Atomic Age jewelry styles included the looks of swirling atoms, electrons, starbursts, and sunbursts. After looking through my collection of the 1950s and ’60s vintage rings and cuffs I repurposed from clip earrings and brooches, I found several of these designs.
Here are a couple of 1950s starburst clip earrings I repurposed into adjustable rings:
And this is a spectacular 1960s brooch I repurposed into a hammered, gold plated statement cuff:
Although most of the jewelry to which I am drawn is vintage, I know I will enjoy wearing my new starburst statement necklace from 2016.
I am thankful there is truth in the old saying, “Fashion always repeats itself.” It gives people like me a second chance to wear and enjoy it if you missed it the first time around!
*Atom-shaped light fixtures – photo credit: On the White Line at https://www.flickr.com/photos/42406847@N07/6809766539
Kimberly Moore is a vintage costume jewelry expert, blogger, speaker, and author of Beauty in a Life Repurposed. To learn more, visit her website at kingdomsparkle.com.
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