Bob Dylan wore a long dangling one to close the Live Aid concert. Mr. T donned an African replica on "The A-Team." And Billy Idol sported a crucifix in concert.

Whether it's a ball, a hoop, skull and crossbones or a simple diamond stud, the earring, once confined to the lobes of women, has caught on to the ears of men.

Apollonia gave Prince one in "Purple Rain." Bill Cosby devoted an entire episode of his hit TV series to his fictional son's decision to wear one. And in "St. Elmo's Fire," Rob Lowe, playing a cool musician, also sticks one in.

"I think it's gotten to be an acceptable trend," said Paul Boles, manager of Commander Salamander in Georgetown. At least 15 men go for the gold, or gold-plated, each month at the shop, he said, adding that a Canadian company sells single earrings, hoping to attract the fashionable male.

"When I first did it, my brother-in-law was aghast," said Boles, who now sports five holes in one ear. "Now he's telling me he's ready to do it."

Georgetown Cotton, a women's clothing store, also reports an increase in men purchasing earrings. "There was a time when we didn't have any men come in," said jewelry manager Lisa Mathieu.

In the 1960s an earring worn by a man signaled a desire to be a little different, to shock.

In the '70s it was often seen as a political statement popular among gays. Although some contend that gays wear their earrings on the right and straights wear their earrings on the left, others say the sexual semiotics are reversed in the Midwest. When straight men began wearing earrings, it created some cases of mistaken identity.

Now, with straight men donning earrings, and the ready-for-the-'90s style of wearing them on both ears a la the British band Wham!, the earring has lost any relevance it had as a sexual signal.

Once a statement, the earring of the '80s has been reduced to prop status, designed to catch the eye of a society obsessed with scrutinizing itself.

In the Griffith clan of Pittsburgh, earrings are worn by both father and son. They even saved some money by splitting a pair, Terry Griffith said as his wife Jan looked on approvingly at their 14-year-old son Damon.

"I just like the way it looks," said Damon.

"We got 'em together," said Terry Griffith. "It was cheaper."

But Damon, politely declaring his independence, added, "I probably would've gotten it anyway."

Despite its admission to the nuclear family, the earring is still most prevalent among young urban rebels. Cristian Soto of Silver Spring wears a German cross on his ear along with the latest punk fashions.

"I met a few punks . . . you know, and they influenced me," he said. "They're all into this anarchy thing," which, he said, the earring represents.

For all the apparent acceptance, the earring must still bear the suspicious glances of some traditional males.

On his sitcom, Bill Cosby remarked, "I have four daughters and a son, and I always thought my son would be the one who didn't wear earrings."

Humorist Roy Blount Jr., author of "What Men Don't Tell Women," worries that the earring may cause more trouble than it's worth. "I don't think anybody ought to wear anything in their ears that's liable to snag onto upholstery.

"The earlobe is the one part of my body that I don't have to worry about," he said. "The more parts you're ignorant of, the better off you are."