Forget Arket puffer coats and the right pair of Birkenstocks, the sharp new school‑gate look is to stick the needle in. Luxury piercings - and piercing parties - are booming among the over-40s.
Septum or helix, dermal or cuff? School-gate chat has evolved from which summer-holiday clubs to sign up for and the best Birkenstock style to include piercings and, crucially, where to get them.
Undoubtedly midlife piercings are on the up. If you're over 35, I'd bet my diamond-encrusted belly-button bar that you already know that. Indeed, a quick audit of your friends' body parts (yes, we're talking everything from nipples to nose rings here) will confirm it. The fine jewellery brand Mejuri identifies women over the age of 40 as one of its key customer groups, while Maria Tash (who is to piercings what Manolo Blahnik is to high heels) describes those aged between 35 and 50 as her brand's sweet spot. I hear the same from the piercer on duty at my local Claire's Accessories, who tells me that middle-aged women are among her most enthusiastic customers.
When I tell my friends (primarily mums who are over 40 or getting close to it) I am writing this piece, this spike is confirmed. "I got mine done on Saturday," says Katie, 40, of her newly speared third hole. "There is nothing more fun than wandering into Claire's with your mate, giggling like a pair of teenagers, then asking them for their most expensive stud. If people ask, I'm telling them we went to Maria Tash."
Another friend, Leanne, who "dropped thousands" on a high-end London piercing bar ahead of her 40th birthday, WhatsApps to tell me she has recently had her septum pierced because she hoped it would make her feel "less basic". "I also think men think they're hot because they say 'subversive'," she explains.
Sandra, who celebrated her 50th with a nipple piercing, has enlightening details to share. "A friend and I were having afternoon tea in a posh coffee shop and the idea just popped into my head. Before I knew it, we were in a scuzzy tattoo parlour and an old biker was asking me to show him my nipple. I didn't have time to think about it, but I left with an adrenalin rush."
What binds the women I speak to is the idea that piercing is a means of capturing a feeling of youth. In that respect, the midlife piercing is the new tattoo, but this is about more than rebellion. For many a piercing is a sort of superpower. Pain is gain.
"Piercings are a form of empowerment," Tash says. "The process of conquering fear to get the piercing, nursing the piercing as it heals and then wearing a piece that reflects your style is a path to feeling in control." Tash, who patents her piercings, cites two new locations — the Tash Helix (which refers to a piercing that is placed in the middle of the upper ear arch) and Tash Hidden Rook (which sits inside the antihelix) — among the hot new places to pierce. "I think smart women appreciate them because they're intriguing and intelligently designed," she says.
Piercings that adorn more than just earlobes have definitely had something of an image overhaul in recent years. Once an aesthetic owned by The Prodigy's Keith Flint (who could forget all that hardware?) and, if you went to my high school, fans of the Leeds garage band Nosebleed, piercings have been reborn as a luxury fashion item. A rise in jewellers specialising in earrings designed to pepper the whole ear instead of just the lobe has encouraged this revolution. The emergence of expensive brands — Mejuri's most popular stud retails for up to £320 ($620), while Maria Tash has a diamond-encrusted navel barbell that is yours for an eye-watering £8250 ($16,000) — has also fanned the flames.
Ellaouise Runnacles, a piercer at Love Hate Social Club, an authentic tattoo and piercing parlour on Portobello Rd in West London, has witnessed this phenomenon first-hand. "The target audience for piercings has expanded hugely and I'm loving it!" she says. "People used to ask 'Are you a punk?' or 'Are you a Goth?' when they saw my piercings. Nowadays people of all ages and backgrounds actually compliment me on my jewellery instead of questioning it."
The fact that it's now socially acceptable to wear a nose piercing to a board meeting or a barbell through your eyebrow and be able to hold down a "proper" job has had a significant impact on the sort of piercings women are plumping for. "Society is more accepting of body modification than it has been in the past," Runnacles confirms. "You no longer get a piercing then risk your career."
Accordingly the piercing, in its new, luxed-up form, is becoming a way for women to mark milestones, with divorces and landmark birthdays among the top reasons to plump for a hole in one (or two). "I've had women come in to get pierced because they want to de-stress or as a reward for a promotion at work,'' Runnacles says.
Mother-and-daughter piercings are also emerging as a key trend: the younger girls come in for a belly-button piercing while their mothers use the occasion to add to their "eardrobe".
"We see many mother-and-daughter visits, couples opting for matching piercings and a lot of best friends coming together," Tash says. "We recently had two friends, one in the UK and one on the west coast of America, who met up in New York to get pierced as a reunion post-Covid. But there are also plenty of people who come in alone."
Piercing parties — social occasions at which the chance to have a glass of champagne with a pal is offered alongside a sharp needle and a diamond-encrusted pin stud — are the next logical step. Tash has VIP rooms in her stores that cater to this demand, while brands such as Monica Vinader, which also caters to the midlife piercing market, offer a similar service.
The challenge is deciding which piercing to plump for. Mejuri and Maria Tash make this easy with menus that offer step-by-step guides to curating the desired look. Instagram, where "curated ears" are a new sort of social currency, also offers plentiful inspiration.
The experts advise throwing caution to the wind. "My best piece of advice to any women considering getting a piercing would be to get on with it," Runnacles says. "Piercings aren't permanent, so if you change your mind down the line, it doesn't matter."
Written by: Karen Dacre
© The Times