Cristen Conger

The Men's Engagement Ring Fail of 1926

The year was 1926, and jewelers were looking to sell a newfangled kind of ring for a newfangled kind of guy: the engagement ring for him. American jewelers had already invented a whole catalog of made-up milestone rings to sell, such as "sweet 16" rings for girls. But they also knew weddings were where the real goldmines lay, and with the tradition of gents buying engagement rings for their best gals firmly cemented since the mid-1800s, the industry set its sights on something for the groom-to-be.

The national advertising campaign for men's engagement rings that launched in 1926 faced major obstacles from the outset, not the least of which was that getting engaged was -- and in many ways, still is -- something that happened to women by virtue of a fella proposing with the presentation of a probably-diamond ring and not the other way around. And speaking of women and diamonds, engagement rings by that time also were inherently feminine, whereas the kinds of rings men would wear with names like "the Pilot" and "the Stag," signaled power and sex appeal, certainly not buttoned-up post-World War I marriage.

Hence, men's engagement ring ads showing a gallant knight galloping into combat sporting a handsome ring and references to the ring recipient as a "he-man," repeatedly hammering home the point via imagery, copy and even the rings' manly materials, such as iron and bronze, that the man's engagement ring hearkened a marital tradition -- albeit completed fabricated -- of masculine heroism.

To top it all off, there was the trouble of how a woman should buy a properly sized and styled ring for her hunky fiance, as advertisers warned that if men found out an engagement ring was coming their way, they might protest, leaving the jewelers to get in cahoots with female fiances to finagle a proper purchase. And not so surprisingly, the jewelry industry quickly realized it had a flop on its hands, and the men's engagement ring fell by the wayside by the time the Roaring Twenties came to a close.

These days, some jewelers are advertising like it's 1926 and trying to revive the idea of a "mangagement ring" as a symbol of 21st-century gender-egalitarian marriage, but until the heterosexual dating scripts that still tend to crescendo in an engagement that happens to women by virtue of a fella proposing and presenting a ring, it's doubtful that men will be demanding en masse for women to put a ring on it anytime soon.

Source: "A 'real man's ring': gender and the invention of tradition." Howard, Vicky. Journal of Social History. Summer 2003.

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