Like most other men, you might someday find yourself standing in the glow of flickering department-store lights, tempted by the prospect of wearing jewelry. "Jewelry would make me look powerful—masculine, but sensitive," you might reason, fingering an especially resplendent wallet chain. "Ryan Gosling does it."
There is logic here, but it is flawed. Ryan Gosling could wear a onesie made of human hair under an adult diaper and he'd still be Ryan Gosling, and he'd certainly still be Ryan Gosling without a dumb coin pendant creeping down his chest. History is dotted with sociopaths and burnouts who also thought man jewelry was a good idea: serial killers, washed-up bassists, Pol Pot (probably), Shia LaBeouf (indubitably), John Ashcroft (cock ring and you know it), and anyone who identifies as a "social-media strategist."
Where do I get off? First of all, I should note that I don't profess to speak for all women, nor one single gay man, when I say this. The impeccably coiffed beauty queen who springs out of bed at 4 a.m. to launch her painstaking daily grooming regimen might have no problem with a man who can pull off a little leather-wrist-cuff action. I've been wearing the same chipped blue nail polish since before Christmas, which I think does somewhat explain my personal aversion toward man jewelry: If you're vain enough to squander several hours in an Urban Outfitters comparing feathered necklaces, you're more likely to be the type of guy who freaks out if I don't shave my legs one day or judges me if I sometimes wear bikini bottoms as underwear. It's unnerving to date a man more elaborately adorned than I am.
Still, it's a big mistake to blithely assume that wearing jewelry will help you get laid. While an obsidian arrow pendant dangling betwixt your chest hairs might attract some women, you may be unintentionally repelling the love of your life.
I learned this painful lesson firsthand via a man I know named Sam. I first met Sam in high school during a trip to New York for a Model UN conference. I was Poland, he was Italy, and we liked each other immediately. We spent the duration of the conference passing notes and ditching our committee meetings to walk around Times Square holding hands. At the end of the week, Sam went back to Texas, and I returned to California, but we kept in touch. A decade later, he texted to say that his band was on tour, and they'd be coming to New York, where I now live—would I like to meet up?
I would. We agreed to meet at a bar in Brooklyn. I was already seated when he strode in, older, but not significantly altered from how I remembered him: tall, with long, messy hair and eyes the color of damp lumber. He was well on his way toward hugging me when something shiny caught my eye, glinting in the wan bar light. There, looped around one finger on each hand, were two silver rings, flashing horribly from his digits—digits that once touched mine. I stifled a scream. I can't say for sure what effect Sam was going for, but I feel reasonably confident the goal is never to send a woman rushing to snap up her chastity parka. The knowledge that he woke up in the morning and made the decision, every day, to slide those vile things over his fingers, thinking they looked cool, bespoke a fundamental difference in judgment so vast that I knew it could never be overcome.
I said goodbye to him later that night, but not before asking if I could hold one of those rings (inlaid with turquoise, since you're asking). I slipped it into my pocket and kept it as a gesture of goodwill: If Sam was able to bed just one woman who shared my aversion, I'd done the world a service. I later theatrically tossed it into the East River, where it would never cockblock again.
The trouble, it seems, is a basic misunderstanding when it comes to how man jewelry is intended to come off, versus how it's actually received. Herewith is a quick breakdown of the most prevalent offenders:
Intended Effect: "I drive a white Dodge Viper and smell expensive."
Actual Effect: "On our third date, I'll get high on blow and ask you to braid my back hair."
Intended Effect: "I'm an A&R guy. Bono gave me this shirt."
Actual Effect: "I spent the morning crying and jerking off to a Chia Pet commercial. I bathe with wet wipes!"
Intended Effect: "I am soulful, passionate, and civically engaged."
Actual Effect: "No one has told me about Twitter."
Intended Effect: "My personality is as the ocean: chill, mellow, full of dolphins. I play the didgeridoo."
Actual Effect: "I will wear board shorts to our wedding. Sober, I have the charisma of a dinner plate."
Intended Effect: Jay Z.
Actual Effect: Justin Bieber.
Intended Effect: "This is guaranteed to accentuate my bulging pecs, upon which it will rest like a badass snake on a chiseled slab of man rock."
Actual Effect: "You are talking, but I am thinking about my v-neck collection."
Intended Effect: "Rustic and manly, this matches my designer flannel and ornamental power drill."
Actual Effect: "I hired someone to put together my IKEA shelves."
Intended Effect: "I'm spiritual and therefore trustworthy"
Actual Effect: "I murdered the last man who mocked my soul patch."
Make no mistake—a nice watch or, if the occasion calls for it, a set of good-ass cufflinks are classy as hell. And there are, of course, occasional exceptions: Bling serves an important role in the hip-hop world, and piercings are a topic for another day.
But if fashion is an academic endeavor, learning to accessorize is your master's thesis. You've first got to own the art of tailored pants and trimmed nails before you're ready to take on any additional flash. The purpose of accessories is to tie your look together, and if your "look" is baggy cargo pants with white running shoes, dumping a bunch of rings and pendants into the mix won't make you look suave; instead, it will make you look like a low-rent john who conducts business out of his 1992 Camry.
There are plenty of other, less fraught means by which to identify yourself as a well-heeled sex pharaoh: Wear clothes that fit! Match your socks! Get a good haircut! Maybe someday, you can get yourself a hat! Until then, do everyone a favor and fling that thumb ring into the fires of Orodruin where it god damn belongs.
Image by Sam Woolley.
Adequate Man is Deadspin's new self-improvement blog, dedicated to making you just good enough at everything. Suggestions for future topics are welcome below.