As a cultural expression, astrology is all about the future. But for our first On Loop story, we thought we’d take a look backwards and explore the relationship between celestial divination and style.
The man with the plan(ets)
Astrology as we know it today – the type where the stars foreshadow meetings with tall, dark strangers and planets cause chaos in retrograde – can be traced back to the influence of just one person. Claudius Ptolemy of Alexandria was a philosopher, mathematician and astrologist in the second century CE. Basically, he was the Co-Star of his age.
Ptolemy wrote the Tetrabiblos, a four-book text on astrology that was essentially a dummy’s guide to the heavens, and it became a blueprint for future star-gazers to follow for thousands of years. It was at this stage that 12 Western zodiac signs were defined and matched with dates relative to where they sat in the heavens.
The stone truth
During Ptolemy’s time, the Greeks of Alexandria were wild for ornate gold jewellery – bangles, pendants, earrings, you name it – inlaid with precious gemstones. Ancient Greeks gave meaning to these stones in the same way they divined it from the stars. For example, they thought that amethyst guarded against intoxication (the name comes from the Greek amethystos, or ‘sober’). So they commonly served wine in amethyst goblets to help prevent the drinker from becoming, shall we say, sloppy (are we paying attention, Geminis?).
However, it wasn’t until around the 1600s that Western culture directly linked the zodiac signs with precious jewels – and it happened in either Poland or Germany, depending on who you listen to (we’re not here to pick sides). This latest model laid out 25 birthstones that were associated with the 12 months of the year, often used in combination.
It’s important to mention that Eastern traditions interpret precious stones and astrology in their own ways too. Hinduism, for example, recognises the Navaratna, nine gems full of celestial meaning that protect whoever wears them against bad fortune.
Simplifying the stones
In 1912, the US National Association of Jewelers simplified and standardised the Western birthstones. Their list is the one you’re probably most familiar with (if not, here’s a breakdown).
But we’re still a few ingredients short of a zodiac picnic. Everything started to come together 18 years later, when the UK’s Sunday Express printed a horoscope for the newborn Princess Margaret Rose. It was the first time a newspaper had printed a horoscope, and people were into it. Suddenly, they were clamouring to read about their own – and others’ – signs.
The age of Aquarius
Still, it was 1967’s Summer of Love, and the emergence of the hippie and New Age movements, that catapulted astrology completely into the pop-cultural limelight. The flower-power generation rejected the status quo in favour of alternative modes of spirituality, and their embrace of esoteric mysticism has stuck. Just look at how comfortably neo-paganism exists in cult ’90s cultural products like Charmed, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Craft and Sabrina the Teenage Witch.
Similarly, the boho-style of the New Age followers – free-flowing clothes paired with stacked jewellery (astrologically inspired and otherwise) – has never entirely left the scene. This aesthetic influence can be traced from the Haight-Ashbury hippies right through to Zoë Kravitz, by way of Kate Moss.
Where are we now?
Venture capital firms have recently poured millions into financing horoscope apps like The Pattern, Co-Star and Sanctuary. These apps use ultra-sophisticated algorithms to serve tailored horoscopes – still based on Ptolemy’s principles – right to our pockets.
At first glance, hippie ideals and Silicon Valley might not seem to go hand-in-hand – but perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that tech innovation has fuelled an astrology revival. Tech evangelists like Steve Jobs were passionate believers in alternative expressions of spirituality. Before his death, Jobs even urged a young Mark Zuckerberg to make a pilgrimage to India to reflect on Facebook’s future.
This new wave of interest in the stars has also flowed into fashion. Peter Dundas’s 2015 collection for Emilio Pucci pulsed with astrological symbolism. In 2017, Demna Gvasalia unveiled a series of coats wryly inspired by the zodiac for Vetements. Each of the 12 designs featured a minimalist description of a zodiac sign (like text on a phone screen) and sold out instantly. The year after that, Givenchy debuted a collection of astrological adornments after creative director Clare Waight Keller first made herself a pair of Leo earrings.
Signs for the times
For many of us, astrology scratches an existential itch. When we read our horoscope, we’re seeking answers from the same stars Ptolemy and our ancestors looked to thousands of years before us. Sure, the details of our challenges have changed. But their broader themes – love, politics, fortune and friendship – are constant.
This timelessness is part of what helps astrology endure in pop culture and fashion. And it’s why we’ll always be happy to wear our heart on our sleeve (and our star sign around our neck) when it comes to our crush on the zodiac.