SYMBOL Many wear crosses for different reasons
For some, it signifies spiritual devotion. For others, it's just trendy.
When Madonna hung an oversized cross around her neck in the '80s, there was a provocative whiff, the teasing of her Catholic-girl-gone-bad persona.
Today's celebrities have rediscovered the cross and catapulted it -- jumbo-sized and jewel-encrusted -- into one of the accessories of the moment.
Only this time no teasing is involved.
Jennifer Aniston, Destiny's Child's Kelly Rowland, Penelope Cruz, Britney Spears, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Missy Elliott are some of the cross-sporting celebs.
It's predictable that teens and 20-somethings, especially those into hip-hop where glitzy crosses abound, have followed suit.
For many Americans, the cross, of course, is a symbol of spiritual devotion. And although for the devout, it's not a style choice, wearing one has never been out of fashion.
Indeed, its crossover prevalence today may be partly due to the national mind-set and a collective quest for reassurance.
"So much has happened to our country in the last two years," says Kevin Jones, fashion historian at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in California. "I have a feeling (the cross resurgence) began with 9/11, and then we went into the war on terror and then into Iraq."
Jones recalls a surge in cross-wearing during the first Gulf War in 1991, too.
The use of the cross as secular jewelry doesn't sit well with some Christians.
"To me, it detracts from it. It cheapens faith, and it doesn't serve the purpose it should," says Dr. Charles Johnson, pastor at Temple Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C.
The only positive result would be if wearing a cross inspired a spiritual awakening in a non-Christian, Johnson says. "Maybe it'll cause somebody to think, somebody to turn around and wonder," he says.
Other Christians see it differently. April Briscoe, 26, of Raleigh, has a collection in black, white, blue and gray. She matches them with different outfits. But her crosses are not a badge of faith.
"I am Baptist, but it doesn't mean anything to me religiously. I just like to wear it," she says. "I have friends who wear (a cross) because they're into that goth-type thing."
Merchants say that shoppers who buy crosses for religious reasons tend to choose discreet crosses, which become highly personal and beloved keepsakes.
It's the secular hipsters and bling-bling lovers who gravitate toward the ritzy styles -- bulky sterling silver crosses studded with sparkling cubic zirconias.
"I don't think it's for the religious part," says Jennifer Cammuso, a sales associate at a Raleigh, N.C., mall "It's because they're cool. It's what they're wearing now. It's flashy."
In 2004, expect to see layers of crosses dangling from multiple chains around trendy necks, a look already spotted on actress Lara Flynn Boyle, says Amanda Berg, a spokeswoman for the national Jewelry Information Center.
Because sentimental styles are also big this year -- hearts, charm bracelets -- don't assume folks piling on crosses don't have personal, spiritual reasons.
"I think a lot of it is wanting to accessorize and to make a statement about yourself," Berg says. "I am fashion-forward, but I'm also devoted."