What to Do with Brooches


If you wanna talk about an accessory that most of us love yet have NO IDEA how to wear, let’s talk about brooches. They’re cute, they’re funky, and they’re supposed to perk up any old outfit. But somehow, they seldom make it into the mix. Why is that?

Well, I think it’s the Grandma Factor. I can’t say the word “brooch” without hearing Ad Rock stating proudly, “I bought my grandma a BRAND NEW BROOCH!” And while a dash of old lady chic is fun, many of us worry that brooching it up could send us over the edge into Weirdosville. So how do we style brooches to look fresh and fun instead of stale and stodgy?

Well, I’ll admit it: I only have two ways of wearing brooches that I feel truly suit my style. But I’ve called on some advanced broochers for examples of slightly more daring ways to sport this beloved accessory.

With Retro-influenced Looks


I love the look of a cardigan tacked down by a sparkly little pin. And since my retro-influenced outfits always have an element of modernity to them, I feel safely chic and fear not the Grandma Factor.

With Shawls and Wraps

As a confirmed klutz, I NEED brooches to keep my shawls from dipping into my soup while I eat lunch, and the filing cabinet while I whiz around my cube, and the sink while I’m washing my hands. Need.

And this concludes the sad little tour of my brooch stylings. So let’s take a peek at someone who can wear brooches in many and varied ways: S. of academichic is the MISTRESS of brooch deployment, if you ask me, and is able to create a far more varied array of looks with her collection of pins.

To Add a Dash of Bright Color

S. uses her light blue brooch to perk up outfits with a dark or neutral-heavy color palette. Both of these outfits have some retro overtones, but are far more modern than mine, I feel.

To Break Up a Wash of Solid Color

A necklace would’ve fought with that funky popped collar, and a bracelet would’ve drawn the eye down. But adding a little brooch to this stark black sweater is a great way to add interest to an otherwise plain top half.

To Soften Hard Lines

This entire outfit is sleek and streamlined, but the large, sheer, feminine floral brooch gives it a dose of softness.

And S.’s academichic cohorts, A. and E., have some great brooch-adorned ensembles, too.

As a Belting Element

A trick I’ve seen lauded in magazines and have been meaning to try for ages! Doesn’t that sparkly brooch add such personality to A’s little black dress?

For a Dash of Femininity

E.’s menswear-influenced pieces work fantastically together, but the brooch is the perfect finishing touch. That, and her adorable orange pumps, keep this ensemble from veering too far into tomboy territory.

Are you a brooch lover? Brooch hater? Still unsure if you can pull off brooch-based looks? If you wear ‘em, what’s your favorite way? Do you prefer soft, fabric pins or traditional metal brooches? Any other brooch styling resources to recommend?

Top image courtesy meganauman.

  • Couture Allure Vintage Fashion

    I've also brooches as a hair accessory, pinned to my various hats, and even to the back of a glove.

  • Robin Abrahams

    I love 'em! I use them to:

    1. Jazz up my outerwear, in spring and summer.

    2. Fasten the top button of my cardigan.

    3. Wear on a hat, handbag, or belt for added visual interest, and (this is a new one)

    4. Fasten necklaces to make a simple string of pearl beads into a "statement necklace." (You can then wear the brooch in the front, like a pendant; in the back, where it's unexpected and draws attention to the sexy nape; or use it to pin the necklace to your top garment for an interesting look.)

  • La Historiadora de Moda

    I like brooches, but I only have a few of them. I tend to wear other kinds of accessories more so I invest my money in those.

    I do love the idea of using a brooch to prevent klutzy mishaps with a shawl!

  • Elissa

    I actually have a huge collection of brooches, most of them pretty old. I find that the needles of the pin-parts are usually too weak to go through whichever fabric I want them on! But I do like Robin Abrahams suggestion of using them as a necklace pendant.. hmm…

  • Kristine

    I love brooches. They are so versatile. Hair, securing scarves, decoration, etc. You can do so much with a brooch.

  • Bridget

    There are brooch converters (both permanent and temporary) that can help with converting it into a necklace:

    http://www.tigercatjewelrystore.com/tip&tricks.shtml

    I also use brooches a lot to help make my dresses fit better…I'm not very well endowed, so I pull together two straps from a dress that just sits too low on me, and fasten the two straps together inside the clasp of the brooch. I used to do this with a safety pin, but the brooch is just so much prettier.

  • Faith J.

    OH YES! Love them! Great post!

    The only jewelry I asked for for the holidays was a brooch. And I got one, a jeweled one with brown stones and gold in an abstract flower. Beautiful for breaking up a solid colored cardi!

    I need help finding modern ones that don't look like animals. I love animals, but I already have a dragonfly, a couple of frogs, and a cat brooch.

    I mainly use them for sweaters and cardis. I've tried them with scarves but the scarf overwhelms the brooch and ends up sagging in a weird way.

  • ejessop

    Timely post, as I've started to be obsessed with/collect some pretty brooches and don't always quite know what to do with them! I've definitely been trying the necklace pendant technique, particularly on a gold or silver chain, or a set of similar-length chains…if you put the pin through a link in the chain, it stays in place where you put it. I also tend to put them on hats or coat lapels, or to close the front of a wrap dress.

    I also like the idea of trying them as hair accessories or on handbags or cardigans!

  • The Cake Decorator’s Daughter

    I'm generally afraid to wear them on clothes. I don't know why, they obviously don't look old ladyish on you gorgeous bloggers. Most of the time I pin them to handbags for a pop.

  • evanadine

    i LOVE brooches when i see them on other people — they add a certain something to an outfit without looking like you tried too hard.
    my problem is with finding brooches that dont look so grand-matronly. i scour my local goodwill and keep an eye out whenever im shopping, but i never find ones that i really like…

  • Diana

    Lately, I've really been getting more into brooches. I love using them to add an extra pop of color, or to break up a large stretch of solid color.

  • Tina Z

    I love the idea of them, but never follow through with actually wearing them. And you can find such great brooches at antique markets/vintage shops. Thanks for the ideas and pictures.

  • Laura Elaine

    This is by far one of my favorite posts of yours. First of all I'm right with ya…I have a whole jewelry box full of beautiful brooches…but never seem to know how to incorporate them. Thanks for giving my style a kick in the pants again.

    And hello, more Beastie Boys references please! ;)

  • Shannon

    I have a snowflake pin that lives on my puffy ski jacket all winter. That is the piece I get the most compliments on, oddly.

    I tend to put brooches in a non-standard positions. I break up my black suit jacket with a pin on the hip pocket. I will also wear it on a skirt like a kilt pin, or at the waist if I'm tucking in that day.

    I've also employed them in emergency button situations :o

  • Casey

    Fantastic tips, Sal! :) I have quite a little stash of vintage brooches, and like wearing them occasionally. One of my favorite ways to jazz up a cardigan or jacket is to pin a whole bunch of them, military-medal style, on one side of the front (I usually use about 2-5). I have a bunch of vintage school medals that I use for this, although I have been known to sneak in a few sparkly/non-school medals too. ;) It's a bit quirky, but is a great way to add a bit of "pow!" to any outfit, and pull out most of your brooches at the same time. ;)

    ♥ Casey
    blog | elegantmusings.com

  • K.Line

    The only way I wear a brooch (and I don't have many) is as a "button" for my slim cardigans. I open them up, cinch them at the waist and affix the brooch. People LOVE it.

  • Kelly

    The fear of looking like my grandma keeps me from wearing brooches as often as I'd like…maybe I just have to make sure to wear them with undeniably younger outfits. Hmmm…

  • cwhf

    I have become fascinated by brooches, thanks to our extremely stylish first lady. I hadn't really thought of them as being able to fit my style until I saw her modern take on them.

    Sadly, I really only have one, but he's a beaut. I found him lost at an estate sale, a little marcasiste salamander with rubies set into his tail. I always get compliments on him; I need to expand my collection and try some of these great tips—love the one for the dress sitting too low from Bridget—I must try that one!

  • denise@thebluegardenia.com

    Interesting. I've been wearing brooches for years (decades!) and I've never once thought of them as grandma fashion fare. The main factor: Choose the right brooch. (OK. Slap me.) I wear Regency, Schreiner, Eisenberg, KJL, and I never fail to get oohhs and aahhhs from everyone, even strangers on the street. Now there are indeed old-lady brooches, including some my beloved grandmother gave me that I don't wear. I wear them on sweaters, jean jackets, vintage jackets, DKNY.
    Interesting point of view, and thank you for sharing it.

  • Elaine

    These are GREAT ideas!!! I saw one idea on myedit where she dressed up an LBD with broaches all on one shoulder. It looked SO classy! I just wish I had broaches to play with :(

    clothedmuch.blogspot.com

  • KIRAFASHION

    so sweet!
    I do love your mix of colors!

  • Oranges And Apples

    Really? They're my favourite accessory, and I wear them all the time, everywhere. It never corssed my mind that they would be difficult to wear. I like them, becuase unlinke a necklace, there's almost never a clash with the neckline I'm wearing.

    Also, I think maybe this is another one of these US-UK language things? Are brooches quite a specific type of thing (which is why maybe you think of them as granny-like)? I would call anything with a pin at the back a brooch, including button badges. I make them and I noticed when listing on etsy that the US term seems to be 'pin' which doesn't really work in UK english.

  • grace

    I love the idea of brooches, but I never wear them. One reason is that the main way I like them is on cardigans, and I'm afraid of snagging my sweaters. Do you have any tips on that?

  • Charlotte

    Like Elissa, I have a collection of old brooches, most from an Italian mosaic brooch frenzy I got into a few years back. I'm looking for a way to make the back pins more secure, as I lost one due to a pin failure & have been leery of wearing them since. When I do wear them, mostly it's to hold a scarf in place or to soften up an otherwise butchy outfit.

  • Sal

    Grace: As a bona-fide klutz, I'm afraid I don't! Most of my brooches don't have a lot of prong-set jewels and I avoid things that look like they might be overly snaggy … but mostly I'm just careful. Anyone else have snag-avoidance tips?

    Oranges and Apples: Yup, I think it's another terminology difference! To me, a brooch is a fancy pin-back piece of jewelry. A button is a round graphic thing with a slogan on the front and pin on the back. A pin could be any number of things, from a stick pin to something like a kilt pin.

  • lisa

    Ooh good topic! I admit I have a couple of brooches lurking in my jewelry collection that I never get around to wearing because I just don't think of them. I have one off-the-shoulder coral top that slips a little TOO far off the shoulder when I go salsa dancing, so I fasten a big flower brooch on the shoulder and make the neckline smaller that way. Voila, it stays put!

  • Sadie

    I use brooches to fasten my cardigans – I have several cardis without buttons or buttonholes (some handknitted, some shop-bought) and I just pin the fronts together just below my bust. Round brooches a couple of inches across work best for this. It adds a bit of colour and sparkle to my outfits, and means I can use different brooches and/or vary where I pin to create different looks with the same cardigans!

  • rb

    I wear a lot of longer cardigans and I often use a brooch to close the cardigan a little closer to the body, just under the bust line. (ignoring the buttons)

    I think Michele Obama uses brooches in an interesting way – in multiples along her neckline.

  • SR@MyStyle

    Hi there-a really fab post, very inspirational with some great tips, thanks!!

  • emadethis

    I do not own any brooches, but my Mom is seriously the queen of them. I'd never thought about using one where a necklace was over the top. What a fantastic idea! I feel naked without my necklaces, but once in a while, I like to wear a big old collared shirt.

  • valerie

    definitely as a hair accessory or attached to a neck scarf. i agree that they are the "lost accessory"! ha

  • Eyeliah

    Thanks for this, I was just thinking about how I've underutilized my broochs this year!

  • Julie

    Lovely post. I think brooches are beautiful and not worn enough!

  • All Women Stalker

    Great ideas! To avoid the grandma factor, using the large floral/non-stone ones is recommended. LIke the last look. :)

    They also work as hair accessories, for cuffs/bracelets. :)

  • Sheila

    I often use my brooches to gather in a cardigan or a blazer at the small of my back. You just pleat up the fabric, stick the brooch through the pleats, and voila! Instant rear visual interest.

    I like clusters of brooches. I should do that soon. Thanks for the inspirations!

  • Workchic

    I love using brooches to add a pop of color to my jacket or dress. They can transform any outfit!

  • vêtements déments

    I love brooches – I started wearing them a few years ago. I'll admit that I now use them sometimes on the waistbands of skirts to disguise my horrendously awful sewing (ok crazy gluing) skills. Or just to embellish a skirt for fun. (Market Publique had a blogpost on using brooches to liven up a waistband a few weeks back – a very fun DIY read).

  • Inkit Myway

    wear loads of dark and bright colors like orange goes owsum with blue,grey and purple to have a cozy and safer feeling in the season of hot and cold.i'd like to mention Leigh Lezark’s unique style and Erin Wasson to get a cindy crawford feeling and girl olivia and Nicky Hilton are next to mention.

  • Anonymous

    I am a brooch lover. I, too, have pinned them onto hats and scarves. My all-time favorite way is to wear a brooch on the upper left shoulder on a suit jacket. You can experiment with how high you want the brooch (traditional, high on top of the shoulder, on the back shoulder of the jacket, on the winged collar of a jacket). You can also wear a brooch at the center of your shirt (neck area…the clavicle area) or on the shirt collar. That way especially calls attention to a pretty face. I have bought quite a few brooches from QVC.com (Nolan Miller and Joan Rivers have beautiful ones). I have worn fabric ones before, but I prefer the metal ones with vibrant stones.

    Valerie

  • Vildy

    wow, I love that idea of using one to gather some fabric at the back.

    No matter how many times I read that they are the stuff of grannies, I pay no attention. Here in my city there are a lot of young grannies and that makes me old enough to be a great-granny and I am neither. I've worn brooches, which I just call "pins," since I was a teenager.

    I don't like showing decolletage and I often wear one as a topmost button so that I adjust the depth of the neckline without having to make another buttonhole. I'm 5 feet tall but longer waisted so I don't wear petite clothes and the necklines usually fall too low. I don't like camis, either.

    I also use them on necklaces as mentioned or to double a longer necklace that's too short to go over my head if really doubled because it has no clasp. Would work that way to make a bracelet out of a necklace, too.

    One year I saw a YSL jacket, think it was, that was dark but covered with what looked like very expensive animal brooches. Found some inexpensive ones and copied the idea. The kids at the afterschool program I then ran, loved it but one day I said, What was I thinking! and decided it wasn't me and gave them all away.

  • Belle de Ville

    Couture Allure nailed it with using them as hair ornaments and on hats.
    I also like double clips on strappy gowns, and brooches pinned to the bottom of the "V" on a backless gown. Very sexy.
    Lastly, if you are not a brooch wearer, consider coverting the brooch to a pendant.

  • Academichic

    Eeeek, this is so flattering! I've been sans internet for a few days now and am only now seeing this post – thanks for the lovely feature! S.

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