Taylor Billings always knew she’d be the one proposing marriage to her now-husband: “I had said ‘I love you’ first and asked him to move in together, so I'd known I wanted to ask him to marry me for a while,” says the labour organiser. But four years into the relationship, when Billings was ready to pop the question, she couldn’t find any fitting engagement rings for men, which is why, in September 2019, Billings proposed empty-handed. Afterwards, the two spent weeks looking for a ring together, still with no luck from traditional jewellers: “We ended up getting him an engagement ring from Etsy,” she says.
Women-led proposals are nothing new. For decades, TV shows and movies have portrayed the gender-role reversal, from Monica getting down on her knees in front of Chandler in Friends to Miranda’s proposal to Steve over beers in Sex and the City. Most recently, this came up in the 2022 Father of the Bride remake, when the bride’s dad is perplexed when his daughter reveals she proposed to her fiancé. Prominent figures have also shared their non-traditional proposal stories: Senator Elizabeth Warren revealed she proposed to her now-husband of over 40 years in a classroom with no ring. Meanwhile, on TikTok, the hashtag has grown to nearly 2 million views.
Still, non-traditional proposals have hardly become normalised, with many still uncomfortable with the subversion of traditional gender roles. Last June, when former The Bachelorette contestant Becca Kufrin proposed to her boyfriend, fans criticised her by saying her now-fiancé should have been the one to pop the question. Billings also faced some challenges within her own family: “My parents were kind of mourning the loss of me getting proposed to,” she says. “My mum was like, ‘Are you really going to give up on [getting proposed to]?’” With traditional gender roles established in every step down the aisle, it’s no wonder why women like Billings find it hard to get a symbolic item to propose with.
However, this is slowly changing — and the jewellery industry is taking notice.
“Women are taking more ownership of their own relationships and what is an incredibly big choice, and proposing themselves.”
Theresa Palermo, ZALES senior VP of marketing
Over the past few years, as wedding traditions become more flexible, the market for men’s engagement rings and even engagement watches has expanded, prompting everyone from big-name jewellers like Zales and Tiffany & Co. to independent brands like Valerie Madison and Marrow Fine to start offering engagement and wedding jewellery for men. “This is a trend that we're seeing across the bridal space,” says Theresa Palermo, senior vice president of marketing at Zales. “Women are taking more ownership of their own relationships and what is an incredibly big choice, and proposing themselves.” This is also a result of a decades-long push from the queer community to buck traditions when it comes to the genderisation of marriage proposals and weddings, opening up the space for men’s engagement rings.
And sales are climbing. New York-based jewellery brand Gabriel & Co. has seen a 25% spike in orders for men’s engagement rings over the past few years. “We believe this trend is a renewed interest in men wanting to wear jewellery and telling their partners, which is creating a demand to buy them an engagement ring,” says Dominick Gabriel, chief design officer of Gabriel & Co., adding that the company is also seeing a revival in men's interest in jewellery overall for the first time since the late ‘90s when it was more common for men to wear jewellery.
Billings says that while women are open to bucking tradition, it’s hard to do so when options are limited. Back in 2019, when she proposed, most options available, she says, fit a “hypermasculine” aesthetic and did not vary greatly in materials or design. While there were plenty of wedding band options for her to choose from, there were few pieces that would make for good pairings for a band after the wedding ceremony. “I just wish there were more gender-bending jewellery makers that I could find easily,” says Billings. “I also think it was a lack of imagination and disposition from the sales folks we spoke to.”
John McNamara, vice president of marketing at Zales, says that it’s similar customer feedback that led the brand to expand its offering of men’s engagement and wedding bands. Contrary to traditional bands, the company’s offering varies from two-tone tantalum bands and vintage-style diamond bands to five-stone bands and wood-inlay stainless steel bands. Meanwhile, Tiffany & Co. offers a thick band — which can be ordered in platinum, titanium, and black titanium — featuring a single, centre diamond, mimicking the traditional solitaire engagement ring. Other brands like Valerie Madison have kept their designs as simple wedding bands that showcase details like hammered and birch textures.
With more women proposing to their boyfriends than ever before, Billings feels that it’s important for the wedding industry to catch up to modern-day expectations. “There’s a narrative that the woman plans everything and the man just has to propose,” she says. “That is so embedded in our culture,” she says. Ultimately, she feels that this choice doesn’t need to feel like a “screw the patriarchy” statement. “It would be lovely if it could just be a quiet moment talking about a decision that is genuinely so important about our partnership,” she says. “Why wouldn't you want everyone proposing to each other?