Sequins have endured the test of time. As flashy and seasonal as they seem, they always creep back up every New Year’s Eve party and are peppered in our outfits throughout the year. After the beautiful Dior Pre-Fall show this year, I was curious about the original purpose of sequins since they don’t seem too useful like buttons or rivets. Despite their futuristic, silvery shine, they actually pre-date the zipper by a few thousand years. It turns out that sequins as decoration date back as early as 2500BC in the Indus Valley. The word ‘sequin’ has always referenced wealth and is related to various words meaning ‘gold coin’ like sikka (Arabic) and zecchino (Italian). The first sequins were originally gold coins tied onto clothing. King Tutankhamun (and probably other Egyptian pharaohs) were entombed with coins attached to their garments to signify their wealth and importance in the afterlife. In medieval times, the Roma people, known as gypsies, would carry all of their belongings with them so tying coins onto clothing was used to not only signal wealth, but also make travel more convenient.
Eventually the aesthetic appeal of sequins gave way to creating garments with metal rings instead of actual currency. By the time of the flappers in the 1920’s, people wanted a much lighter-weight alternative to heavy metal rings. Through the process of gelatin electroplating, beautiful colored sequins were created. As you may have expected, these sequins could not withstand heat or moisture since they were gelatin. Some people claim that if you purchase a vintage sequin dress from the 1920’s (which you should make sure you never ever wash, by the way) you can sometimes see a ghostly handprint of a dance partner’s clammy hands. Luckily, materials science has improved since then and after a few variations on plastics, we now have vinyl plastic sequins that can withstand the washing machine.
Now sequins cover anything from dresses to purses and boots and have been the center of many classic fashion moments - both subtle and dramatic. There was Michael Jackson’s jacket in his 1983 performance of “Billie Jean” when he premiered the moonwalk or Marilyn Monroe’s red sequin dress from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Even Princess Diana and Kate Middleton have rocked the sequin. Sequins have been used by many top designers such as Halston during his heyday in the 70s, last year’s Chanel bags, and culminating in present-day Dior.