One of the hottest trends in the teen market today is rings that promise “I don’t” instead of “I do.” Although they started out as “pre-engagement” pledge rings, today promise rings have morphed into another category: purity rings. Worn by (mostly young) people, the rings represent a vow to practice chastity and remain celibate until marriage.
Like many trends in the teen and young adult market, the current popularity of purity rings can be traced to celebrity. Superstar Miley Cyrus is just one of the prominent young performers, many promoted by Disney, that publicly wear the rings.
Purity rings came into the limelight with a vengeance during the MTV Video Music Awards show this September 7, when the host, British comedian Russell Brand, mocked the Jonas Brothers boy group for wearing them.
Jordin Sparks, the 2007 American Idol winner, jumped to the brothers’ defense later on the show, asserting that “It’s not bad to wear a promise ring because not everybody, guy or girl, wants to be a slut.” Although Sparks’ rejoinder got great applause, it set off a flurry of Internet debates about whether non-marital sex, indeed, makes somebody a slut.
At the same time, the controversy publicized the rings to an audience who might not have been aware of the trend. The rings, similar in styling to wedding bands, are usually silver. The rings are worn on the ring finger of the left hand. Styles may be customized for the concept with a saying, bible, verse, or cross, or may resemble standard wedding band styles. For example, styles the Jonas Brothers wear include a woven band, a plain ribbed band, and a band with Roman numerals.
The practice of wearing purity rings has been promoted since 1996 by Silver Ring Thing, which organizes concert-style events with entertainment that promote abstinence. The organization’s silver rings inscribed with bible verses can only be purchased after attending an event. Since 1996, Silver Ring Thing has held 600 events in seven countries. The program received federal funding from 2003 to 2005.
One of the biggest manufacturers of specifically-designed purity rings is Kerrville, Texas-based James Avery, a manufacturing jeweler with 48 stores in Texas, Colorado, Georgia, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. The firm introduced its “True Love Waits” purity ring decorated with the slogan in February 2003, well before the MTV dustup between Brand and Sparks.
Avery spokeswoman Sara Hegener says the line was heavily influenced by the evangelical Christian community’s emphasis on premarital chastity and celibacy among its teenage members. Not surprisingly, she says, the rings sell best in the “Bible Belt,” the stretch of Midwestern and Southern states where evangelical Protestantism is strong.
Hegener says the difference between promise and purity rings is distinct. “A promise ring is a pre-engagement ring where a couple says, ‘You’re my girl’ and ‘I’m your girl’ and someday they’ll get engaged. A purity ring doesn’t require a significant other. It’s a commitment to family, community, and God to stay chaste.”
News that the Jonas Brothers, Sparks, and Cyrus have jumped aboard the bandwagon have had a good effect on Avery’s sales. Hegener reported that sales of “True Love Waits” were up 78 percent in July and 113 percent in August over their respective 2007 figures. She adds that it’s too early to tell if the MTV controversy will bump up sales even more.
— Patrick Totty