I’ve been collecting brooches since I was in high school, but I didn’t fully realize how practical they could be until I recently relocated from New York to Milan and needed a way to instantaneously change up my outfits without weighing down my suitcase.
Fastening an interesting brooch to the lapel of your jacket or pinning one onto the side of your sweater — gathering a few folds of fabric to create a defined waist — can be incredibly effective and subtle in adding character. Just think of the 1930s Cartier brooch Paul Mescal wore to the BAFTAs — his suit might have been custom Gucci, but the vintage diamonds injected the perfect touch of personality and charm.
In my own collection, my favorite brooches seem to fall into one of two categories: florals (for spring, I know … groundbreaking) and animals or insects. Florals have always been an incredibly popular motif in the world of jewelry and introduce a bit of fun to what could otherwise be a cookie-cutter ensemble. Meanwhile, insects have ties to surrealism that embody a Prada-like brand of ugly-chic. Here, I’m sharing some of my favorite brooches that I’ve acquired over the years (to which I’ve linked some similar alternatives), along with some new ones I’m pining for.
My mother found this for me at an antique store in New Jersey. I have a wire-haired dachshund, so of course I needed a pin to go along with the dog. I love this other vintage dachshund pin — that comes with a dramatic, kitschy top hat. The beauty of pins is that you can always seem to find one that suits your needs, no matter how specific.
I found this pin recently on Etsy after my blossoming love affair with the pigeon. Unlike my others, which are mainly enamel or plastic, this is hand-painted wood, which I think makes it more special. I’ve linked another painted goldfinch brooch, which has an impressive level of detail.
This vintage hand pin broke two nails when I dropped it one day, and somehow, it just added more character. Cute dupe here.
The richness of the color is truly eye-catching. I once pinned five different floral pins around the collar of a white tuxedo-style button-down so that, from far away, it achieved the trompe l’oeil effect of a necklace. Saint Laurent has some beautiful modern options.
Here is a great set of 1950s pins that you can mix and match in so many ways. When someone has already done the work of finding a collection of pins that go together, that alone is worth the price.
I found this on a vintage site a few months ago, and when I saw it was nearly five inches in length, I had to have it. It’s so bizarre and literally held together by a string. Similar is this poppy design by the iconic Elsa Peretti.
I’ve always loved fish and birds, so aquatic birds like this Art Deco crane are my absolute favorite. I love the simple, abstract design, and as birds are often used to symbolize freedom and new beginnings, it’s a lovely message to wear proudly.
I hated cicadas when I was young, but there’s something intriguing about wearing one as a pin now. It’s a bit off-putting, but at the very least, it’s a conversation starter. I would suggest this clear one if you’re in the market.
A gorgeous mid-century flower in a beautiful ochre color. I found another vintage bloom that comes with a ladybug (for good luck!).
I have three vintage Léa Stein fox pins. Stein, who’s known for her unique celluloid and plastic designs, has put out so many incredible pieces that still seem so modern more than half a century later. She’s a master of simplifying complicated shapes that somehow always retain their elegance and peculiar qualities. I think her fox is the perfect example, and it’s my personal favorite of her wide catalogue. Here’s a floral-printed version.
The contrast between the white flower and the dark-green stem of this simple enamel flower pin seems to go with just about anything. It brings so much depth to an outfit — for example, I have a beautiful black winter coat from Prada, but after wearing it year after year, you become a bit bored with its appearance. It’s lovely to be able to add, on a whim, more color, pattern, and texture with a brooch. Although this alternative pin is monochromatic, the amount and layered quality of the petals make it interesting to the eye.
Imagine my surprise when days before the Prada show — and after I had proclaimed the return of the brooch — the brand sent this kite along with an invitation. I pinned it to my dress and wore it to the presentation. It’s unclear if Prada will be producing these, but here’s a Miu Miu one for now.
Right now, my collection mainly swings mid-century, so I would love to add something Edwardian or Victorian. Pennisi is the best antique store in Milan — they’ve been a family business for over 30 years — and for the past eight years that I’ve been going to their shop on Via Manzoni, I’m always enthralled by their ability to pick the absolute best pieces. This bejeweled peacock is a perfect example of their uncanny ability to balance eccentricity and elegance.
[Editor’s note: Pennisi lists all prices in euros, so the price shown here is an approximate conversion to U.S. dollars.]
I would wear this Undercover rose pinned on a dress or evening coat to somewhere dramatic, like an opera, an evening gala, or a date. It signifies that you don’t need someone to buy you a rose or give you one in some sort of dystopian Bachelor world — you have your own!
Simone Rocha always makes such fun jewelry. It would be fun pinned onto a pair of ripped jeans to make it a bit more dainty.
For some reason I like imagining this strange Jil Sander brooch as part of a surrealist dream, like it’s cutlery melting out of your breast pocket.
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