I didn’t think anything of it when I bought myself a pair of sweatpants with a smiley face on them—I just thought they were cute and cheerful, and they made me smile. Then, I got a sweatshirt. Then, a top for my toddler. And finally, a pair of slippers for myself (because how can you have a grumpy morning with two blue smiley faces peering up at you from the floor?).
Obviously there’s a trend here. Then I received an email about a new collaboration between Stephanie Gottlieb and ArtSugar (a charm, pictured at top, that benefits Resolve: The National Infertility Association) featuring—you guessed it—a smiley face.
I love the ’90s—it’s my whole childhood. So clearly this nostalgic little icon has a hold on me, and I welcome it in every iteration possible.
And many jewelers have made such variety possible. We as consumers love to sport symbols in our jewelry—hearts, the evil eye, the peace sign—and the smiley is no different. It just happens to be getting more attention at the moment.
This friendly symbol, the one you so often see beaming from the white plastic of a takeout bag, is wonderfully ’90s. But it also fits with cottagecore style and the arts and crafts movement, like patches hand-sewn onto army jackets and jeans. It’s kitschy, it’s sunny, it’s exactly what we need right now.
It’s also a nod to ’90s grunge, for those wanting to embrace it as a little less rainbows-and-unicorns and a little more edgy-cool. Remember Nirvana’s smiley face logo? Doesn’t get more grunge than that.
The smiley face has actually been through its share of symbolic transformations. It was designed in 1963 by the artist Harvey Bell, who was commissioned by an insurance company to raise morale among its employees. It hasn’t gone away since, popping up over the decades in a variety of cultures.
Some of those cultures were heavily steeped in drugs—like the acid house music genre of the 1980s (the term, which technically describes the type of music, stems from the use of psychedelic drugs in dance clubs). Then there’s comic books—if you don’t read them, you might be familiar with the popular comic Watchmen from its incarnation on HBO. There, the smiley face takes on a sinister look, spattered with blood and worn as a button by one of the series’ characters.
This iteration in jewelry is decidedly happier—maybe the smiley just evolves to give us what we need at the time. And the cool thing about this icon is its many layers: It can mean more than one thing, or something different to each person.
During these last two years, though, I like to think the familiar yellow mug serves as a reminder to, as the accompanying phrase made popular in the ’70s put it, “Have a nice day.”
Top: Smile charm in 14k yellow gold with enamel and black diamonds, $1,200; Stephanie Gottlieb x ArtSugarFollow JCK on Instagram: @jckmagazine
Follow JCK on Twitter: @jckmagazine
Follow JCK on Facebook: @jckmagazine