Charm bracelets actually date from ancient times. They were worn by men as well as women and were intended to protect one from one's adversaries or reflect one's profession, religious or political affiliation, or status within the community. They came in a range of styles. Chinese bracelets, for example, included jade carvings, metal objects, and glass beads, all of which were attached to a black string and fastened to the wrist. Originally charm bracelets were meant to have a magical effect on the wearer, but the bracelet's purpose and meaning and evolution into a fashion statement changed with the shifting culture and values of the twentieth century.
The typical twentieth-century charm bracelet was adorned with objects representing good luck (a four-leaf clover, horseshoe, or dice), happiness (an elephant), prosperity (a pig), or dreams coming true (a wishbone). Love, represented by a heart, was a favored theme. Variations included obsessive love or infatuation (a heart pierced by an arrow), love put forth and returned (two hearts pierced by one arrow), and devotion to the one you love (a padlocked heart). A cheerleader megaphone, telephone, cat, dog, or money bag represented items the wearer desired or already had possessed or achieved.
More expensive charm bracelets were made of silver or gold, while less costly ones were stainless steel, copper, or brass. Their charms often came in a variety of materials; small plastic ones were even purchased in gumball machines or came as prizes in candy boxes. A girl's charm bracelet eventually was replaced by a wedding band, at which point the bracelet was retired to a jewelry box as a keepsake of her youth. Some grown women, however, also wore charm bracelets.
Congram, Marjorie. Charms to Collect. Martinsville, NJ: Dockwra Press, 1988.
Oldford, Kathleen. My Mother's Charms: Timeless Gifts of Family Wisdom. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001.
[ See also Volume 4, 1930–45: Charm Bracelet ]