For my 16th birthday my mother gave me a strand of pearls. They were beautiful; small, perfectly matched, just grazing the top of my collarbone. There was a great deal of ceremony when she gave them to me, as if I had passed some milestone and was being presented with the key to a treasured place that only those who had attained a certain level of knowledge were entitled to possess. I still have those pearls, and hers too, although I rarely wear either strand. Waiting in line at Starbucks the other morning, I was perusing the newspapers when I saw this picture of IMF Chair Christine Lagarde:
Image courtesy of telegraph.co.uk
The image of Christine Lagarde struck me as familiar, having just seen Meryl Streep’s performance of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. (Now you MUST watch the attached clip to embrace this post…don’t worry, it’s only 72 seconds…)
I’ve got pearls on the brain. What is it about pearls that women in power find so appealing? Is it because pearls are universally flattering? Does their simple elegance denote an unostentatious type of wealth that only the truly secure and powerful can exude? Is it because they go with almost every outfit and power suit, and make the transition from day to evening fashion with an ease and grace rarely found in any other accessory?
According to American Pearl, “…in ancient Rome, pearls were considered the ultimate symbol of wealth and social standing. The Greeks held the pearl in high esteem for both its unrivaled beauty and its association with love and marriage. During the Dark Ages, while fair maidens of nobility cherished delicate pearl necklaces, gallant knights often wore pearls into battle. They believed the magic of these lustrous gems would protect them from harm. The Renaissance saw the royal courts of Europe awash in pearls. Because pearls were so highly regarded, a number of European countries actually passed laws forbidding anyone but the nobility to wear them. ”
Costello’s goes on to say “…In many countries pearls were worn as a declaration of wealth and power, and also used as a talisman to bring good fortune, to ward off evil spirits and to cure illnesses. Pearls were symbolic of purity, chastity and feminine charm.”
Let’s take a look at some powerful women and their pearls:
Former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. Powerful.
Dilma Rousseff, President of Brazil. Powerful.
Michelle Obama. Powerful. And married to power.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Considering her hold on the European Union voting block, I’d say she’s powerful.
And here she is rocking her pearls with some ferocious cleavage, which in some circumstances gives her even MORE power…
While I’m not convinced that any of these women were (or are) worried about feminine charm, maybe there is something to the medieval belief that wearing pearls into battle would protect you from harm. Lord only knows that these women do battle every day. Perhaps they see their pearls like a modern day suit of armor, protecting them from the arrows and swords that are flung at them as they wage their political wars.
Margaret Thatcher’s pearls were non-negotiable. I think I’m going to unwrap my pearls from their velvet pouch and wear them for a few days and see what happens.