Fashion Jewelry vs Costume Jewelry?

Costume jewelry and fashion jewelry are essentially the same but from different time periods. The two types share similarities in construction and purpose, but there are some subtle differences between costume and fashion jewelry. Many consumers use these terms interchangeably while some jewelers and fashion designers distinguish between the two categories.

Similarities of Costume and Fashion Jewelry

Both costume and fashion jewelry offer consumers the same benefit of affordable accessories. These jewelry types mimic the appearance of finer pieces by using less expensive materials. Fine jewelry can be expensive because it uses precious metals and gemstones that are quite valuable. Costume and fashion jewelry substitute these materials with plated metals and fake gems. The following table highlights some common materials used in the construction of costume and fashion jewelry.

Plated Metals: Non-Precious Stones

Pewter: Rhinestones

Aluminum: Colored Glass

Nickel: Plastic or Acrylic Beads

Function of Costume and Fashion Jewelry

Consumers purchase costume and fashion jewelry in order to look fashionable while maintaining a budget. The price of diamonds, solid gold, and precious gemstones can be expensive when trying to coordinate jewelry pieces with different outfits. Costume and fashion jewelry imitate the look of fine jewelry but can cost significantly less. With imitation pieces, consumers can wear a different set of jewelry everyday for relatively low prices.

How Costume and Fashion Jewelry Mimic Higher End Pieces

While expert jewelers can tell the difference between fine jewelry and imitations, the average consumer may be fooled by the realistic effects. Solid gold, silver, and platinum emit a luminescent shine that attracts the eye. Cheaper metals like nickel and pewter are duller in appearance, so to mimic that shine, designers plate the material with small amounts of gold or silver. This plating keeps the piece inexpensive while creating the look of precious metals. Diamonds and gemstones are also expensive depending on the quality. The brilliance and facets are slightly more difficult to imitate, but glass blowers try to replicate the shape and color of precious stones. Mid-grade jewelry sometimes uses semi-precious gems to keep prices lower while maintaining the beauty of fine jewelry. Plastic and acrylic beads with shiny coatings imitate the appearance of pearls at a cheap cost.

Rhinestones in Costume and Fashion Jewelry

One of the first methods used to simulate the look of diamonds was to coat the back of rock crystals with metal flakes. These crystals became known as rhinestones because they were collected from the river Rhine in Europe. With the proper construction, some rhinestones even sparkle like real diamonds under certain lighting conditions. Imitation jewelry featuring rhinestones became so popular that manufacturers coined the term diamante to categorize such pieces. Designers incorporate different colored crystals to mimic the effects of various precious gemstones.

Swarovski Rhinestones

The brand Swarovski introduced an iridescent crystal rhinestone in the mid 1950s using scientific treatments to produce the elegant effect. Many consumers ask for Swarovski jewelry by name because of the highly realistic looks and mid-ranged price level.

Differences Between Costume and Fashion Jewelry

The terms “costume” and “fashion” are used synonymously when talking about jewelry, but there are some subtle differences in time periods and perceived quality.

Costume Jewelry was popularized in the 1930s for practical reasons. Women often possessed valuable pieces that were passed down from mother to daughter as family heirlooms. It was too risky to wear these pieces due to potential damage, loss, and theft, so consumers had replicas made from cheaper materials for everyday wear. The practice of creating faux jewelry became popular because women could expand their jewelry collections for versatility and wardrobe accessorizing without spending a fortune on fine pieces. Costume jewelry became fashionable accessories for commoners who could not afford valuable metals and precious stones. The name “costume jewelry” stems from its use in stage performances. In theatrical plays, directors wanted the audience to see the dazzling jewelry, but the cost of real pieces was not feasible for most productions. Prop departments created costume jewelry with faux gems and sparkling rhinestones that the audience could see and the budget could afford. The fake jewelry also prevented theft among cast and crew members. During the early development of costume jewelry, women paid jewelers to craft pieces to be worn with only one outfit. This tradition differs from modern consumers who purchase jewelry to match a variety of outfits that they own. Costume jewelry made the practice of buying fashionable pieces for individual outfits more affordable. Consumers could buy fake jewelry for the purpose of fashion and purchase new pieces as trends shifted.

Fashion Jewelry is the evolution of costume jewelry and differs only slightly in its intended use. This type gained popularity in the 1980s as young women wore fashion jewelry to make statements. The term “fashion jewelry” is more recent than “costume jewelry” and incorporates fun and playful styles. Consumers wear this type to dress up outfits and follow current fashion trends. Fashion jewelry styles are constantly changing as new trends emerge whereas costume jewelry encompasses timeless pieces that are now considered vintage or antique. Some fashionable women prefer fashion jewelry over higher end pieces because they can spend less money on jewelry that will only be in style for a season or two. The following chart illustrates the changing trends in fashion jewelry over three decades.

Jewelry fashions included large, colorful beads on necklaces and bracelets. Young women wore sweatbands on their wrists, ankles, and heads as fashion statements. Extra-large, gold-plated hoop earrings were popular among teenagers and young women. Teenagers adorned their wrists in wide plastic bracelets and bangles.

The grunge era incorporated chunky jewelry made of nickel with silver plating. Metal bead necklaces and chains became popular in regular and extra-large sizes. Body jewelry was popular for both men and women. Manufacturers produced different gauges for rings worn in the nose, navel, ear, tongue, eyebrow, and lip. Hello Kitty and other character fashion jewelry was popular for children and young teens.

Sterling silver became a popular and affordable material to use in fashion jewelry. Women wore thinner necklace chains for a subtler fashion statement. Gold- and silver-plated Figaro chains were popular for men. Children, teens, and young adults liked beaded bracelets of varying colors with hidden meanings. Rubber bracelets and bangles made a comeback in the early part of the 21st century. Charm bracelets reemerged as collectible fashion pieces with varying price ranges depending on the materials used.

As trends come and go, fashion jewelry is a term used to describe any piece that is in style and not constructed from valuable metals or stones. It is a versatile category that includes a variety of materials, such as rubber, metal, plastic, acrylic, and semi-precious stones.

Perceived Quality of Costume and Fashion Jewelry

Some consumers distinguish costume jewelry from fashion jewelry by the value of the materials used. When the term “fashion jewelry” became mainstream, the variety of materials available was more diverse than those used for costume jewelry in the 1930s through the 1970s. For example, costume jewelry often utilized nickel and aluminum while fashion jewelry may feature brass or sterling silver. Due to the gap in available resources, some jewelers consider fashion jewelry to be more expensive than costume jewelry. On the other hand, costume jewelry can be priced higher as a valuable antique or vintage accessory.

Finding Costume Jewelry and Fashion Jewelry on TEEMTRY.COM

Shoppers purchase costume and fashion jewelry on eBay to expand their collections and enhance their style. From the home page, browse all categories to find Fashion, or select Jewelry & watches from the side panel on the left. Fashion Jewelry is located under the Jewelry & watches subcategory. Under the Vintage & Antique section, shoppers find a variety of pieces in the Costume Jewelry link. The categories on the left side allow visitors to narrow the results by jewelry type, brand, metal, stone, and other features.


Costume jewelry and fashion jewelry share the intention of providing consumers with fashionable pieces for affordable prices. With this broad definition, the terms are interchangeable for any piece of jewelry that contains cheaper materials. Some individuals use “costume jewelry” to describe a specific time frame while others use “fashion jewelry” to indicate higher quality pieces. With regards to current trends, costume and fashion jewelry offers consumers the chance to express themselves without spending too much money on accessories.

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