My mother taught me the value of pearls when I was a little girl. She would wear them everywhere: a choker to church, an opera strand for a night out, a brooch to the doctor’s appointment. Her vanity was full of pearls in every color of the rainbow—many of them wired into flowers or set into gold.
The trouble came when she tried to apply these values to my particular pre-teenage self. Whenever I would be invited to a birthday party between the ages of 8 and 14, my mother would hand me a string of pearls to wrap as the present, despite my vehement protest. Of course as a feisty eight year old I failed to understand the value of a commodity I associated with moms and grandmothers—I was too salty about a missed opportunity to pillage the toy aisle at Target to divine any social credit that a boring gift like pearls could possibly give me.
It wasn’t until I started college—or perhaps it was just before my high school graduation—that my grade school friends, suddenly overwhelmed with childhood nostalgia, began coming to me one-by-one, expressing how they still have those pearls that I had given them so long ago. While everyone had long since thrown out that game of Monopoly or lost their Barbie combs, those baby pink strands had stayed quietly tucked away in top drawers and jewelry boxes, waiting patiently to be lifted from their organza pouches for some special occasion. Unruly teenage years behind us, my friends and myself slowly began to realize that maybe those necklaces weren’t strictly for little old church ladies after all (Mom was of course this entire time excepted from this category).
My mother was correct. You cannot go wrong with pearls.
Fast forward a few years and I have acquired a whole new set of friends, scattered all across Southern California. It occurred to me while living in Manila this year, I might replicate my mother’s process and bring back pearls for my dearest lady friends. In true Filipino fashion, I marched straight to the tiangge to purchase my pasalubong, and spent an hour bartering—with assistance—with my cousin’s suki. This process alone—supporting a woman-owned business, is a small satisfaction in of itself, but the purchase is only half the ritual. Giving them to everyone I can think of is the other.
Why? First, pearls are some of the most accessible investment pieces. You purchase them knowing they’ll last forever, their looks are timeless, and their uses are endless. I understand that womanhood should not be defined by how we choose to/not to adorn ourselves—so of course I hold space for those whom jewelry holds no substance. But for my friends that do, a strand or even a single pearl might come in handy for a wedding, a first date, maybe even a gift to pay it forward to someone else entirely.
Second, my woman friends are some of my most vital sources of love, inspiration, and support. I would be nothing if not for the support of my mother and my lady friends. For me, the act of giving pearls is an act of intention. Giving pearls says, “I love you, and I want to invest in you.” They’re tokens of affection, simple gestures of female kinship that further affirm that my lady friends are valuable and worthy human beings. Femininity should be celebrated more often—in all of its forms. I refuse to believe that pearls are so rigidly defined so as not to be able to mold to the personal expressions of all of my girlfriends.
What about you? How do you honor your female friendships?