Piercing Stylists Are Reinventing the Classic Ear Stack

There's more to great piercings than adding a new hoop.

Image of styled ear piercings, silver hoops and a woman with many earrings
(Image credit: Future)

A client once drove 530 miles and seven hours from Quebec City to Oakville, Canada, for an ear styling session at the piercing studio The Curated Lobe. Shiera Homsy and Tianna Bastien, the company's co-founders and best friends since the last day of ninth grade, couldn’t help but pop a bottle of champagne after the appointment. For them, it was the furthest someone had traveled for their piercings. For the client, it was the only route to get the exact jewelry and placement they wanted.

Personalized ear stylings have become a full-on phenomenon within the greater piercing boom—so much so that customers are happy to trek cross-country for an hour-long slot with the right professional for the right look. In an in-person or virtual session, which can range from $100 to five times that cost, expert piercers can design custom constellation of studs, hoops, and sparkles unique to each client's ear anatomy and personal style. "From a technical perspective, there's a lot that goes into it—executing the piercings is only one part of it," Bastien says. Really, it's a discipline-driven art form blending professional know-how with a customer's preferences and ear real estate.

The service's exact terminology varies. Homsy and Bastien call theirs "curated consultations," while Studs, a needle-only, nationwide piercing parlor filling the Claire's-shaped holes in the hearts of millennials, trademarked the piercing portmanteau, "Earscaping." Quippy nomenclature aside, the concept is the same: a personalized practice that’s several levels above the drive-by service you’d receive at a piercing-gun-and-done mall kiosk.

Image of style ear piercings

A close up of a client at The Curated Lobe wearing four gold piercings.

(Image credit: Future)

Just as you would seek out a tattoo artist whose aesthetic you resonate with or hairstylist who’s mastered a specific cut, building a well-curated ear usually starts with a piercing artist's final result: what their earrings look like stacked together. Adrian Castillo, a piercer working at 108 Studio’s Los Angeles and Brooklyn locations, is renowned for his “delicately abrasive” curation style. Castillo’s unconventional placements featuring minimalist pieces—two teeny-tiny gold studs stacked together on the center lobe or a studded hooped curving neatly along the ear’s inner cartilage—result in a waitlist that books up weeks in advance.

Likes, follows, and re-shares are the first place to look for an ear curator whose style reflects your own. Marilyn Mena-Scott, a piercer with 22 years of experience practicing at Paloma Piercing in Phoenix, Arizona, has amassed a cult following of 850,000 TikTok for her videos breaking down before-and-after stylings. Similarly, Cassi Lopez, founder of the Brooklyn-based So Gold Studios, earned 1.1 million TikTok followers for her informative, ask-me-anything style videos, covering topics such as how to heal keloids and the definition of a daith (an internal cartilage ear piercing).

Image of style ear piercings

The Curated Lobe will work with clients over several years to complete a fully personalized ear, like this one.

(Image credit: Future)

Aesthetics are just the start. “[Ear styling] is not just about making it look nice—it's also about ensuring pieces fit correctly. The average person can't look at their ear and know what gauge, post length, or ring diameter they will need to buy, and it defeats the purpose of creating a balanced and cohesive look,” Lopez says.

Seasoned professionals know the proper questions to ask about one’s “ear goals,” as Mena-Scott says. The Arizona-based artist spends 30-60 minutes at the top of every styling session discussing her client’s occupation, aesthetic preferences—whether they prefer yellow to solid gold or want their birthstone featured—and daily granular details, too, like whether a client wears a helmet or headgear or spends time in chlorinated water, which can affect certain gemstones used in piercings. All of these logistical details factor into how the canvas of an ear can turn into a work of art you wear daily.

While their content may appear on your FYP alongside tweens doing dance tutorials and DIY lifestyle hacks, trustworthy piercing professionals have extensive training and certifications. Lopez, for instance, has been in the industry for 21 years, is a member of the Association of Professional Piercers (a health and safety non-profit dedicated to body piercing), and oversees the organization's press and outreach. All of this expertise honed over decades, she says, is crucial for proper ear curation.

So is an understanding that the look can't always come together in a single appointment. "Typically, a lot of piercing places will pierce you, send you on your way, and then you'll never hear from each other again," Bastien says. "We work with [clients] to ensure that any complicated piercing is healing properly and to support them along the way. It might take somebody 10 years to fully get their ears to the point where they're happy." When you embark on a curated ear journey, your piercing artist is in it for the long haul right beside you.

It might take somebody 10 years to fully get their ears to the point where they're happy.

It's best not to look too closely at how others embellish their ears—even if they're filling your social media feeds. The beauty of such a specific piercing practice is an assortment that fits you and your ears only.

“Trust your gut with [ear] styling because, at the end of the day, you have to go through the pain of getting pierced, healing it, buying the jewelry, and wearing it every day,” Catillo says.

That said, trends have a way of emerging. Maximalist, more-the-merrier groupings are common requests in Maria Tash's celebrity-frequented studios. Meanwhile, The Curated Lobe is fielding requests for artful asymmetry: various-sized hoops, inner and outer cartilage piercings, and chains of different lengths, says Homsy.

If rainbow specks tucked into curls and whirls of your cartilage call your name, then clip on some colorful studs. And if the look you want only comes from a piercing artist hundreds of miles away, go ahead and hit the highway.

This story is part of Piercing Is All Grown Up, a package exploring the trends, artists, and brands shaping piercing today. You can read all five stories here.

Emma Childs
Fashion Features Editor

Emma is the fashion features editor at Marie Claire, where she writes deep-dive trend reports, zeitgeisty fashion featurettes on what style tastemakers are wearing, long-form profiles on emerging designers and the names to know, and human interest vignette-style round-ups. Previously, she was Marie Claire's style editor, where she wrote shopping e-commerce guides and seasonal trend reports, assisted with the market for fashion photo shoots, and assigned and edited fashion celebrity news.

Emma also wrote for The Zoe Report, Editorialist, Elite Daily, Bustle, and Mission Magazine. She studied Fashion Studies and New Media at Fordham University Lincoln Center and launched her own magazine, Childs Play Magazine, in 2015 as a creative pastime. When she's not waxing poetic about niche fashion topics, you'll find her stalking eBay for designer vintage, reading literary fiction on her Kindle, and baking banana bread in her tiny NYC kitchen.