Dressing Rules: Designer Melissa Joy Manning on How to Over-Accessorize

melissa joy manning jewelry designer
Melissa Joy Manning

Judging by all the "how-to" style and beauty guides on bookshelves, you'd think personal style were as easy as 1, 2, 3. In reality, of course, individual style is rarely so simple. With Dressing Rules, we ask industry insiders to spill the rules they dress by -- and the ones they can't wait to break.

When asked about her tricks of the trade when it comes to accessorizing, jewelry designer Melissa Joy Manning is candid: "Typical to my personality, I can't really follow traditional rules ... I find it easiest to explain how to over-accessorize and get away with it. Sorry, Mr. Gunn."

Having garnered a loyal, celebrity-studded legion of fans since starting her Berkeley, California-based line in 1997, it's true that there's certainly nothing conventional about her hand-crafted eclectic pieces. With a medley of arts degrees under her belt -- including one in silver-smithing from Instituto de Allende in Mexico -- Manning has become an authority on how to play with expected notions of accessorizing. Her guidelines are specific, but inherently flexible.


1. "Think of your traditionally-accessorized body areas in four zones: (1) head and neck, (2) neck and waist, (3) neck or waist and wrists, (4) wrists and hands." 

2. "Ignore small accessories -- three or fewer bangles, stud earrings, small hoops and plain rings or wedding bands -- when following the 'accessory zone' rule. I believe they can, and should, be worn at all times and, therefore, do no apply to the zone rules ... except for the earrings -- please choose one pair at a time." 

3. "Combine two zones at once: Wear a large specimen ring and multi-chain necklace at once, or wear a cool, eye-catching belt buckle and huge, dogs-can-jump-through-them hoops together." 


1. "Wear more than one large accessory in any given zone at one time, like a bib necklace and duster earrings, a vintage eagle-head belt buckle with a large turquoise necklace or large silver cuffs -- they're the same zones."

2. "Worry about wearing too many necklaces. I don't care how many you wear: Layer them up. As far as I'm concerned, a bevy of beads or chains counts as only one necklace.

3. "Listen to what anyone tells you to wear. As a designer, I find those who buck the rules the most inspiring."

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