Sequins

With Christmas fast approaching, it is the time when sequins make a reappearance. Sequins are often considered a hit or miss, depending on personal taste. And yet, during this time of year stores continually produce sequined garments for the holiday season. Sequins of varying colours and sizes are eye-catching and are perfect to wear for celebrations. However, they are not only viewed as seasonal within the fashion industry but are now considered as year-round embellishments.

Often thought to be popularized by the 1970s or Michael Jackson, sequins in actuality have a long and complex history. It was Leonardo di Vinci who made a sketch for a machine to produce sequins between 1480-1482, which used pulleys and levers. However, this never came to fruition.

Old sketch of machinery on yellowed paper

Instagram: @renaissance.art

The word sequin or sikka in Arabic translates as ‘coin’ or ‘minting die’, which references money and wealth. Early examples come from the Greeks, who would drill holes into coins and tie them onto clothing for the elite. Similarly, gold sequined disks sewn onto garments were found in King Tutankhauamun’s tomb in 1922, which were deemed as a way to promise financial stability in the afterlife. In the late 16th century the term transformed into the French word ‘sequin’ that has been used ever since. Sewing gold, coins or sequins onto clothing became a symbol of wealth or status, and in some parts of the world was used to ward off evil spirits. As centuries passed, sequins came to serve new functions. During the 1920s, flapper dresses were often embellished with sequins to reflect the glamour of the age. In antiquity, wearing coins was expensive, heavy and impractical. However, by the 1930s Herbert Lieberman solved this issue through developing acetate sequins when working in film production for Eastman Kodak. This allowed for plastic and lightweight sequins to be seamlessly attached to garments, as seen in the modern day.

The impact of sequins on fashion is exhibited in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Many of their items demonstrate the long history of sequins within the industry, for example a 1932 Chanel evening dress made of saxe-blue silk that is covered with matching sequins. Furthermore, Cristóbal Balenciaga’s elaborate evening outfit reveals the designer’s interest in surface textures and patterns. In this example, the sequin discs are of varying shades of pink, which are designed to shimmer through the movements of the wearer.

As stated recently by Fashionista: “SEQUINS ARE COVERING THE SPRING 2020 RUNWAYS: Fashion’s obsession with sparkle is still going strong.” Sequins seem to be dominating modern spring fashions rather than floral prints, as shown in Marc Jacobs and Bottega Veneta’s recent shows that included a variety of shimmering evening gowns. Ultimately, designers are suggesting that sequins are not seasonal but a year-round trend.

Model in long orange coat and orange hat and gold sequin dress

Instagram: @britts_picks

Modern in silver sequin dress on runway with other models behind

Instagram: @bottegaveneta

References

Fashionista, “SEQUINS ARE COVERING THE SPRING 2020 RUNWAYS: Fashion’s obsession with sparkle is still going strong”, https://fashionista.com/2019/09/mfw-spring-2020-trend-sequins

Fashion Gone Rogue, “How to Dazzle in Sequins this Season”, https://www.fashiongonerogue.com/sequins-about-fashion-style/

Smithsonian Magazine, “A History of Sequins from King Tut to the King of Pop”, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/a-history-of-sequins-from-king-tut-to-the-king-of-pop-8035/

Threads Magazine, “A Short History of Sequins”, https://www.threadsmagazine.com/2019/04/24/short-history-sequins

Victoria and Albert Museum Website, “Evening dress”, http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O85664/evening-dress-chanel/

Victoria and Albert Museum Website, “Evening outfit”, http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O110006/evening-outfit-balenciaga-cristobal/