My favorite thing about today’s fashion is that it feels like everything is in style. Scrolling through TikTok is like listening to classic rock radio in sartorial form: You get a bit of the '70s, '80s, '90s, and today.
Gen Z is more than happy to sample trends from other generations, but they’re also comfortable blazing a fashion trail of their own. And nowhere is this more apparent than in their approach to styling their ears.
If you’re looking for the word to describe all the cool, new, piercing configurations you’re seeing on stars including Dixie D’Amelio, Kaia Gerber, and Emma Chamberlain, the term you’re looking for is “earscaping." Coined by the owners of Studs, a female-owned piercing startup, they define earscaping as “the combined art and science of decorating one’s ear with personalized piercings and earrings, resulting in a form of extreme self-expression.”
It’s been a hell of a year, and lately I’ve found myself desperate for brief distractions from real life. After all, you can’t change the world in an hour, but that’s more than enough time to modify your body. So I made an appointment to start an earscaping journey of my own.
A New Fashion Front-Ear
In 2021, Studs opened two stores in Los Angeles within one month of each other. My appointment is at the Century City location, and immediately upon arriving, I’m greeted by an incredible earscape.
The ear in question belongs to Studs’ brand marketing manager, Martha Upton, and it features an intricate assortment of hoops and studs stretching from tip to lobe, slowly accrued over the course of two years. (When Studs first began launching stores around the country, Martha decided to celebrate each opening with a new addition to her earscape. After 12 piercings, she started to rethink that plan.)
Like every other client, my visit to Studs began with a consultation with my piercer, Ashley. I gave her the rundown of my piercing history (unremarkable), the kinds of earrings I normally wear (studs), and my placement preferences (none). I didn’t show up to my visit with anything resembling a plan, but I did like the idea of limiting the majority of my piercings to one side of my head, creating what Martha calls a “party ear.” After some discussion, we agreed to add two new piercings to my right ear, leaving my left ear free to pursue more sensible activities, like sleeping comfortably.
To properly curate one’s ear, it helps to consider anatomy, as well as aesthetic. Every ear is unique, and just as a person might select an outfit that highlights their best physical features, a well-curated ear should be thoughtfully customized to an individual’s ear shape. Some ears lack enough tragus real estate to properly support that particular piercing; other ears have smaller lobes, limiting space for stacked piercings. The good news for beginner earscapers is these spatial challenges are generally limited to more advanced piercing options like the daith (the ear’s innermost cartilage fold) or the rook (located just above the tragus, sandwiched between the inner and outer conch).
Piercing Through the Years
Earscaping may be a modern term, but body modification pre-dates most fashion trends by thousands of years. Ancient civilizations incorporated piercings into tribal rituals, or used them to communicate class, intimidate their enemies, or improve upon health and wellness. Pirates—famed hoop earring enthusiasts—notably believed piercing their ears would enhance their eyesight. That theory never panned out, but when their ships washed ashore after a bad storm, locals used the gold from the pirates’ ears to pay for their burials.
Today’s piercing culture looks a lot different than it did thousands of years ago, or even twenty years ago. Like most Millennials—including Studs Co-founder and Chief Brand Officer, Lisa Bubbers—my first piercings took place at Claire’s. I thought the experience went fine, or at least as fine as any experience can go that involves handing a teenage stranger a piercing gun and asking them to shoot you in the head. Since Studs only offers needle piercings, I was delighted to find this trip was completely gun (and almost completely pain) free.
What to Expect When You Earscape
Going into your appointment, it helps to be realistic about your earscaping expectations. Certain piercings have longer healing timelines, and more advanced options require more intensive aftercare. Your earscape can be as busy or minimalistic as you like, but if you’re a maximalist intending to curate your ear, be advised that it can take multiple years and repeated trips to a piercer to fully fill out your earscape.
It’s also worth considering your pain tolerance. I love my cartilage piercing, but it hurt for months after I got it, so this time I opted for a second lower lobe piercing that I felt was small enough to add to my day-to-day jewelry, but not distract from it. (Expected healing time: 2-4 months.) I used to have a tragus piercing in my right ear, but it fell out during Covid and I never got it repierced because it hurt so much the first time. I was thrilled when Ashley was able to revive the dormant hole (and even happier that I didn’t feel a thing).
You can’t change the world in an hour, but that’s more than enough time to modify your body.
My main earscaping concern involved gravity. I recently inherited most of my grandmother’s earring collection, which I can’t look at without remembering the damage those heavy pieces did to her earlobes. Concerned about how adding new piercings might age my ears over time, I reached out to Lisa who advised that “wearing lightweight earrings like smaller hoops that stay close to the ear or studs helps achieve that balance, while still looking stylish and embracing one’s full Earscape.”
I didn’t even have to leave Studs to know that earscaping is going to be an issue for me. Piercing, like tattooing, can be addictive, and while I didn’t start this journey with a plan to specifically curate my ears, I’d be lying if I said I don’t already have plans for my next three piercings mapped out.