Earrings are thought to have originated in Asia and the Middle East. Historians believe that both hoop and pendant earrings date back to about 2000 BC. Pierced earrings date back to ancient Egypt around 1500 BC.
Indians have been wearing earrings as a tradition since ancient times. It is said that the wearing of earrings is, along with the animistic origins of the Saiva and other Indo-Aryan religions, of great antiquity. The clearest example of the original intention as an animistic fetish is found in the practice of the Kanphata Yogis of India, a sub-sect of Saiva ascetics named from the practice of splitting their ears and placing a large earring made of agate, horn or glass, about two and a quarter ounces in weight, in the ear as a symbol of their initiation. Later, earrings gained popularity and were turned a fashion accessory. They eventually, grew into a tradition.
At the time of the origin, earrings were considered a sign of wealth and prosperity, as only affluent women could afford the precious metals of which earrings were made. Throughout the Dark Ages and Middle Ages, women were usually too poor to own earrings and up until late in the Renaissance, earrings were looked upon as flashy and inappropriate for proper women.
Earrings became popular again in 17th century Europe as styles changed and new ideas were adopted. By the middle of the 20th century, earrings of all shapes and sizes were more popular than ever, though there was a clear distinction between more conservative earrings worn during the day, and the more ostentatious earrings worn in the evenings. In the 1970s, pierced earrings gained popularity and at the same time, styles merged and were no longer segregated to either day or night wear. While the popularity of earrings has risen and fallen over the years, they have always been a part of fashion.
According to legend, evil spirits were thought to be able to enter the body through any of its openings and take control. The first earrings were probably worn to bar the way to these spirits.
According to another folklore pierced earrings help to strengthen weak eyes. If set with emeralds, they are particularly effective. Gold earrings are often worn by those wishing to cure headaches, though some say to wear one gold earring and one silver for this purpose.
Back in the days of sailing ships and pirates a man would wear an earring if he had survived a shipwreck, typically a gold hoop, and that is where we get the classic pirate image from.
One historian attributes the piercing to the desire to punish the ears for overhearing what they should not hear. The earrings, in turn, were the consolation for the pain and suffering. It was believed that the more decorative and expensive the earrings, the greater the consolation.