Six Things to Do With Vintage Clip-On Earrings That Won't Make Your Earlobes Burn

Vintage clip-on earrings are the sad, unfulfilled promise of the jewelry box. But it doesn't have to be like that!
Publish date:
June 22, 2011
vintage, jewelry, clip-on earrings, hair accessories

Vintage clip-on earrings are the sad, unfulfilled promise of the jewelry box. They are so irresistibly lovely that I can never help but snatch them up whenever I find them at vintage stores and flea markets. They are also always super cheap. Each time I get them home and try to wear them, however, I remember exactly why this is: Ah, yes, the pain. At least once a month I go ahead and wear them anyway. I never make it more than a few hours. The rest of the time they just sit around, wasting their potential.

So this week, I decided to see what else I could do with them.

1. Bag Clips First, I got together three pairs of my favorite clip-ons, all three enameled metal flowers, given to me by a friend last year, who said she was sure I would figure out something to do with them:

The yellow and the yellow and white flowers both have lever-style backs; the blue metal ones have little screws on the back, which didn't work as well for every project. Both kinds, however, worked great as little charms on hand bags:

2. Shoe Clips You'll sometimes find shoe clips in vintage stores along with the clip-on earrings. (And if you do, they might also work for some of these projects). They always seem like such a fussy ladies-who-lunch kind of accessory, but it's kind of awesome how you can customize your shoes to any outfit. I thought that I'd have to modify the earrings so they wouldn't poke my toes before using them as shoe clips, but both of my lever pairs worked just fine. Maybe I had them placed in such a way that the earring back slipped perfectly between my toe cleavage or something, but once they were on, I couldn't feel them at all.

3. A Headband Adornment Both lever pairs also clipped right on to a hard plastic headband. This would also be really pretty on a fabric headband and you could sew and/or glue the flowers in place. If you can dig up a metal headband, you could even try to emulate the insane Mexican painter-meets-space-princess, $350 metal headband Laia found a few weeks back:

4. Hair Flair When I'm feeling lazy, I have been known to just twist my hair and clip an earring directly into it. This works most the time, but I can't officially recommend it as a strategy. For more security, clip it into a barrette, hairpin, or rubber band. (Top-knots and high ponytails ringed with flower clips look super cute). You can also remove the clip altogether (full instructions to come) and use epoxy or wire wrap it to a metal barrette.

(And yes, that is my the lower half of my cat's torso, along with the collected stories of Deborah Eisenberg).

5. Jewelry For Your Jewelry Next I tried clipping a flower onto a hard silver cuff bracelet (if you like this look, you could also secure it with epoxy):

I also wrapped a strand of fake pearls twice around my wrist and clipped it in place:

I love the idea of going completely girly and wrapping the fake pearls around your head or a top knot, then adding the flower, though it's probably a look best reserved for weddings and garden parties. But today, I didn't go there.

6. Sundress straps All three pairs looked cute on this plain gray sundress. You could also go all fifties school girl and clip them to a Peter Pan collar or cardigan.

Most of these ideas will work just fine with the earrings as-is. But it's also cheap and easy to convert clip-ons to pierced earrings. First, you have to remove the old mechanism. Apply some adhesive remover (Goo Gone, 3M and Scotch all make one) to the back of the earring. After about ten minutes, you should be able to remove the whole thing. Needle-nose pliers are best, but if you don't have them, you can use any handing prying tool -- butter knife, file (but please don't use your teeth!). If you happen to have wire cutters hanging around -- I do, both in my boyfriend’s workshop and in my own jewelry-making tool kit -- you might be able to just clip off the back. Safety alert: Be sure to dodge any flying metal shards (when in doubt, use goggles) and file any sharp edges. Next, use epoxy to attach a new ear stud -- or barrette, bracelet or hair clip -- to the back of the earring and let dry.

Which is exactly what I did with the blue metal flowers. Last week I wore this exact same pair, screws attached, to a birthday party. Within two hours I was cursing the things and almost left them accidentally on the bar. But now they are totally functional. Now go forth! You can now raid the thrift stores and aging relative's jewelry collection with the full confidence that you actually know what to do with these things. Any other brilliant ideas? Post them here!