Trade Beads as High Fashion Accessory

Ralph Lauren's 2013 Spring Collection ralph-lauren-rtw-ss2013-runway-04_142252375809 ralph-lauren-rtw-ss2013-runway-05_142253445084 ralph-lauren-rtw-ss2013-runway-10_142257863250 ralph-lauren-rtw-ss2013-runway-11_142258809450 ralph-lauren-rtw-ss2013-runway-13_142259861767 tradeBeads_b-8297 tradeBeads_b-8303 tradeBeads_b-8308 tradeBeads_b-8312 tradeBeads_b-8314 tradeBeads_b-8315

Spotted as accessories to Ralph Lauren’s colorful and wearable 2013 Spring Collection, loops and loops of vintage trade beads. Paired with ruffles, fringe, embroidery, serape inspired stripes, these and similar beads, like Lauren’s muses are no less traveled. The 2013 Spring Collection suggests Spain and Latin America and Lauren’s jodphurs, bolero vests, draped scarves, tilted berets and brimmed hats are re-imagined in colors that exude intensity and passion.

These vintage bohemian, or trade beads, were purchased from a group of modern day African traders from Mali and Ghana. Produced originally by Venetians known for their glass wares, they were imported by companies in Germany, Holland, and England then traded in Africa and the Americas. The height of what is referred to as the “trade” period was from the mid 1800s through the early 1900s. Millions of beads were made during that time utilizing various raw materials; metals and minerals. The sizes and shapes ranged from the traditional rounded to tubular, hexagonal, and unique globular and even claw like profiles.

Worn on the runway, in conjunction with a matador’s bolero vest, a poet’s blouse, or a chiffon dress, trade beads project a statement not unlike the image of this and previous Ralph Lauren collections and the women who wear them; well adorned and well traveled.

Curious where to find African trade beads? We have listed two strands at Ephemerascenti at Etsy. Please contact us regarding interest in other strands shown.

vogue photo credits: Monica Feudi/


pink delight barrette
Bee Pin-Brooch
Steel Techno Pin

One of the most prolific and creative of artists and craftspeople on etsy goes by the name of walrustusk. Jen states in her profile that she “was brought up in the far north in Fairbanks, Alaska where I learned from craftsman how to adorn the body with beautiful pieces of bead work. I was transported years later to the desert of Arizona. The dry desert air creates such a different environment where you can’t help but be inspired. I have been exposed to different colors and textures that I think are reflected in my pieces.”

Her work is so meticulous and striking. Her use of color and texture appears both studied and innate. I am in awe of her focus on both her beautiful bead work and embroidery, as well as the dynamic and positive nature of her ongoing conversation with the world at large.

Her work can be found at her store on etsy , as well as her blog. These are just a few of my favorite pieces by walrustusk.

Vintage Bohemian Love Beads

bohemian love beads
bohemian love beads
These colorful compact necklace of vintage “trade beads” was purchased in the late 80s from a group of modern day African traders for whom the local Travel Lodge became “home” for days or weeks at a time; dependent on their business. The height of the “trade” period was from the mid 1800s through the early 1900s. Millions of similar beads were produced primarily by the Ventians. They were imported by companies in Germany, Holland and England then traded in Africa and the Americas. These very old fat globular shaped beads, flat tear drop, flat hexagonal, and an occasional tube, circle or claw, have embellished numerous owners and traveled at minimum three continents. Tightly re-strung on clear fishing line, they are a virtual rainbow of colors and patterns. Strikingly impressive necklace to wear, or divide, for supplies for your unique jewelry designs