I've never understood why men don't wear an engagement ring. Actually, scratch that: I understand why they didn't wear them in the past, when marriage was but the economic chess move of a lady, any lady from her Father to Some Other Dude. But Things Have Changed ™ so it's high time the lady-only engagement ring goes the way of the hetero-dodo and men announced their cordoned-off status for all to see immediately upon engagement.
Over at the Atlantic, Samantha Zabell looks at the history of the mangagement ring (only five percent of dudes wear them now), and proposes on bended knee that the time could be right for bringing it back. Back, you say? You mean, this isn't new? Nosirree. In 1926, companies (such as an early incarnation of Macy's) actually tried to lure men off the market with an identifiable piece of bling, but it didn't take.
The ads, which ran in East Coast newspapers, featured black and white photos of a man's left hand, a cigarette resting between the first two fingers and a large rock flashing on the fourth. The rings even had ultra-macho names: the Pilot, the Stag, the Master. But these campaigns were unable to overcome the ingrained femininity of the symbol, and the movement flopped.
Bummer. But that was then, and now, a series of happenings have aligned which make the mangagement ring more likely to catch on.
Marriages are More Equal Than Ever
So we keep hearing. Nearly 80 percent of young women (under 30) support equal marriage with dual earners, and shared responsibilities (and, it should always be said, most families require two earners now anyway), notes Zabell. This is one reason that has sparked jewelers to revisit the mangagement ring of late: If two people can wear the pants, they sure as hell can both wear the ring.
The Current Practice Is Totes Retrograde
Sure, it's tradition, but why should this particularly imbalanced aspect of it still stand? If the engagement ring indicates off-the-market status out in the world, then we're still comfortable saying that only other men need to know which gals are taken? This might have made sense when only men did the approaching and courtship initiating — see a ring, move on. But if more women are approaching men for dates or other fun adults activities, why shouldn't they have the same visual cues for when a guy is not available? (Yes, not everyone wears an engagement ring OR even a wedding ring, and awkwardness ensues, but such is the nature of approaching strangers. No one needs color bands.) I assumed that men were always wearing wedding bands upon marriage, but GET THIS SHIT: Men didn't even wear wedding bands until the 1940's or '50's! That means for even longer than we thought, dudes could act as married as they felt like without a tan line on their ring finger betraying them in the slightest. Not cool.
"There was an idea of 'togetherness' that was emerging after World War II," says Howard. "People were experiencing a postwar prosperity, and the lavish white wedding fit into that ideal. Jewelers promoted weddings as a symbol of the American Dream." According to Howard's research, celebrity hunks like Humphrey Bogart—the first movie star to don a wedding band—also played a role in bringing this trend into popular culture.
One more reason to love Bogart. Also: Fun's over, boys.
Mangagment Rings Are Still Very Cheap
(Are you tired of me writing mangagement? Me too. Gonna stop now.) Yes, there's still a lady tax on being a lady and needing all the shiny things, but money is a real concern these days, and lest anyone think double rings would break the engagement bank, rest assured that as of now you can still get a super cheap engagement rings in a man-like style. For instance, a British jeweler has come up with the Tioro Ring, and the priciest version is a freaking steal at only $204 bucks (the average lady engagement ring, Zabell says, is $5,431).
It Works Whether the Lady Proposes or Not
Looking at rings, a common practice among couples thinking about marriage, could now simply involve looking at two sets of rings for folks who don't want to give up the traditional proposal. But for women who do want to propose on a Leap Year or any damn day they please, this is a simple way to follow some version of tradition if desired.
Famous People Are Doing It
I don't know about you, but I don't make a move toward wacky new trends until I see at least one famous person forging the path. Does this help: Jennifer Hudson gave her dude an engagement ring. Michael Buble wore one when engaged to his Latin fiancée, saying it was tradition. (This Daily Mail piece explains that in South America, both people wear an engagement ring on the right hand and then switch it over to the left post-ceremony, like the graduation cap tassle move of marriage.)
Same-Sex Couples Are Doing It
Natch, same-sex marriages are probably the real driver for man-style rings:
Recall the recent season finale of Glee, when heartthrob Blaine buys a ring to propose to his longtime boyfriend, Kurt. This fall, the season premiere of the Emmy-winning comedy Modern Family featured a long-time-coming proposal for Cam and Mitch following the historic Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Proposition 8 rulings. The newfound desire to make these commitments known to the world has influenced the industry. In Chicago alone, about half a dozen jewelry stores cater specifically to same-sex couples.
Hetero Dudes Are Coming Around to It
Slowly but surely. Zabell cites research indicating that some 67 percent of men are "open" to wearing an engagement ring:
But because mangagement rings aren't a cultural staple, women are not prompted to buy them. "It's not pushed enough," says Severine Ferrari, the editor-in-chief of Engagement 101 magazine. "Big changes have to come from individual people. If they don't find the product in front of them, it's not going to happen. People need to see things to buy them."
Sometimes Progress Is Also Equal-Opportunity Exploitation
Yes, often progress is just a clever ad campaign that may or may not reflect real actual change, like Lucky Strike cigarettes as "torches of freedom" for women, or any number of modern campaigns that attempt to capitalize on a feeling of insecurity/empowerment but really just get you to part with your money while the sexist infrastructure still turns. But both can be true: We can witness real progress and also see the capitalist machine scramble to encourage spending alongside it. Even within a flawed system, we can see that representation matters, that positive depictions still have an effect on how we see ourselves and others.
Of course, we could disrupt the entire wedding industry and stop wearing engagement rings or wedding rings altogether — I don't wear a ring, am not a jewelry person, and am more than capable of indicating my off the market status without employing precious metals. But most people prefer traditions, and they are well within their rights to do so. So if men and women spend a little more money to show equal public commitment, it can still move the needle (and technically, no one has to spend more money to do this — tungsten carbide, anyone? Vintage rings? Costume jewelry? Diamond Candles?). Besides, if two people are going to lock it in and they really mean it, men and women should never be afraid to truly give each other the finger.