The Item I Wear to Death: My Vintage Kale Necklace

The best thing I found in my grandma's jewelry box.

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(Image credit: Courtesy of Alyssa Haak)

In our biweekly series, editors share "the item they wear to death," whether it be a basic white tee or a super-trendy jumpsuit. Prepare yourself (and your credit card) for some guilt-free shopping.

Every time I wear my necklace I get asked the same question: "Is that...kale?" Why yes, yes it is. The necklace wasn’t bought in homage to the trendy salad green that has overwhelmed restaurants and Instagram feeds, though. Instead, the piece (and its matching earrings) are a tiny piece of family history harvested from my grandma’s jewelry box.

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Coffee and kale are a perfect combination.

(Image credit: Liz Martin)

Let me explain. My mom’s mom was a snazzy dresser—and a prolific shopper. She had filled three closets with patterned blouses, matching suit sets, and a couple pairs of gold sneakers. Her jewelry box covered the top of her eight-foot dresser and served as a roadmap of all her travels and memorable shopping trips. (Once, a simple, "Grandma, do you have any costume jewelry pins?" led me to a box filled with a dozen rhinestone brooches and art deco floral pins.)

After her funeral in 2007, my aunts, my mom, and I all bought a six-pack of New Glarus Spotted Cow and sat down to sort through grandma's treasures. I had spent years raiding her jewelry box, but still had no idea what we would uncover.

Among the turquoise rings from the Southwest, the wedding bands from my grandma's marriage and her mother’s marriage, and the more colorful pieces bought from Kohl’s, was a beautiful kale-shaped jewelry set. The fanned-out leaf pendant featured detailing of ribs and veins exactly as you'd find in your supermarket. It was perfect. And, I had to have it.

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The leafy greens were on my necklace, not my Au Cheval burger.

(Image credit: Alyssa Haak)

Since my mom is the eldest of three and also the family historian, nearly every piece from that box came with a story or memory, including this set of silver beauties. It turns out, these not-so-green greens, and my mom’s complementary set of leaves, came from a tiny gift shop in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, nearly 40 years ago—long before kale salads dominated restaurant menus.

Now, decades later, the charm of kale is back in season. And my necklace is more special than ever. The single silver pendant pops against my neutral-tone wardrobe and serves as an eye-catching statement piece. I often wear it to parties where I can use it as an easy conversation starter or add it to a dressier outfit to keep the look a little more casual.

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My kale necklace jazzed up this plain white t-shirt.

(Image credit: Alyssa Haak)

The necklace gets worn a lot and, like any woman with a beloved item, I treat it with care. When I'm not wearing piece, I use an old wives remedy to keep the silver from tarnishing: I store it in a box with a couple of pennies. With the pendant's many curves and ridges, cleaning off a bit of tarnish is more difficult than preventing it in the first place. As my mom explained it, "the pennies stop the problem before it starts." (I don't know the science here, but I trust my mom's advice.)

I brought a few other pieces home with me that day: a turquoise pendant by Effie, with a signature snake curling around the stones, a gold ring set with three pearls, and my great-grandmother’s filigree wedding ring. However, none get quite the same reaction as my kale necklace. As always, my unvarnished response is "Yup, it’s kale. I found it in my grandma’s jewelry box." It has served, and continues to serve, me well.

PSA to Kale lovers: Though mine is vintage, you can snag your own similar necklace, here.

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