Hoops spring eternal

Earrings (even a pair from Argos) add instant glamour.

As it's the New Year, and some of us may be feeling slightly fragile, maybe not even that attractive, I wanted to concentrate on something that can make us feel glamorous, instantly and very easily. And that's not bags or shoes, but actually something much simpler and cheaper: earrings. More precisely, hoops.

There's a picture, not famous but not entirely unknown either, of Pablo Picasso at a lunch table. On the table is a basket holding pieces of cut baguette, and by his side is his friend/housekeeper/cook/nanny, Inès Sassier. She is smiling, with wavy hair and a black unbuttoned top that shows a bit of collarbone. She looks attractive, but what gives her the edge are her earrings, which immediately elevate her to the status of glamourpuss (my new word for 2008).

She's made an effort. For lunch. Hers are stud hoops, and the hoop bit is not overly large, but we can forgive her that.

When Ava Gardner does her fantastically sexy dance in The Barefoot Contessa (one of the best scenes in cinema, I think), she's wearing hoops. Hoops smack of earthy sexuality; they're a little bit naughty while never being tacky if you follow certain rules (see later). When Ava was being posh in that film she wore diamanté drops; when she got down and dirty with the locals, she swapped to hoops. Hoops give you instant "giuzz", to give it its technical term. Julia Roberts wore hoops in the promotional poster for Erin Brockovich (mind you, the original Brockovich did indeed - and probably still does - wear hoops) to semaphore a certain "of the peopleness".

But a few words of warning. Hoops must never be gold; they must never be too thick or be in any way adorned. They shouldn't be too small in diameter (no smaller, really, than three centimetres - it was all right for Inès, but fashions have moved on a bit and now small hoops can age you), but they shouldn't be too big, either. Fans of Coronation Street must surely remember Karen McDonald and how her hoops got too big for her head. There was a lesson to be learned there.

The jewellery counter at Argos (can there be a classier place in all the world? I particularly love that it tells you not to "sleep with earrings in the ears" on the website, just in case you were tempted) sells two pairs for £7.49. Never think that second pair will be a waste, because it's always good to have a spare and, truly, there isn't a simpler way to make an outfit go from day to evening than threading a pair of hoops through your ears.

If you're feeling like a fat and lazy person who ate too much waiting for Santa, hooped earrings won't make you slim, or industrious. But they will make you look as if you care a bit about your appearance, which is never a bad thing.

Annalisa Barbieri was in fashion PR for five years before going to the Observer to be fashion assistant. She has worked for the Evening Standard and the Times and was one of the fashion editors on the Independent on Sunday for five years, where she wrote the Dear Annie column. She was fishing correspondent of the Independent from 1997-2004.

This article first appeared in the 14 January 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Obama unmasked