We explore our fave party staple and celebrate some killer sequin looks over the years...
We just can’t get enough of those disc-shaped beads. There’s something about covering ourselves in head-to-toe sparkle that transports us back to a bygone age – and makes us feel invincible. Think Carmen Miranda in Copacabana, Twiggy in thigh-exposing Biba or Liza Minnelli at Studio 54 – bold looks that scream look at me as each tiny jewel refracts and sparkles.
But what exactly is the history of this disco armour? And why do we revere it? You’d be surprised how far back these geometric spangles go. There is some historical evidence that suggests gold sequins were being used on garments of clothing as early as 2,500 BC in the Indus Valley (now to be found in Pakistan). What we definitely know is that when Egyptian King Tutankhamun’s tomb was discovered in 1922, gold discs were found sewn onto his regalia.
The word ‘sequin’ itself helps explain why we still consider the glitzy look an extravagance. It originates from the Italian word ‘zecchino’, a gold coin that was issued in medieval Venice. Bearing this in mind, sewing sequins onto an item of clothing was considered a status symbol that only the very wealthy could afford.
Sequins apparently came over to Europe with the arrival of travelling gypsies who would sew coins onto their clothing as a display of prosperity. This tradition really caught on in the Elizabethan era. A waistcoat dating to 1610 – called The Layton Jacket – still exists and is now stored at London’s V&A Museum. The long-sleeved garment is intricately embroidered with sequins and silver-gilt thread.
By the nineteenth century, ‘zecchino’ coins were finally abandoned and the French embraced the ‘sequin’ establishing it as a fashion-staple we now recognise and still wear today. From the flapper dresses of the 1920s to the 1930s MGM goddess gowns, and the free spirited mini-dresses of the 1960s to the Halston wonder-creations of 1970’s Studio 54 – sequins have always given our wardrobes sparkle and style.
Here are just a few of our favourite, iconic sequin looks. Sparkle on, Hollywood…
‘Beauty has got to be astonishing, astounding- it’s got to burst in on you like a dream,’ F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in his 1920’s collection of short stories, Flappers and Philosophers. The age’s speakeasy style did just that. The flapper dresses of the 1920s were cut straight, hung loose and sparkled with breaktaking embellishments. Skirts were raised to just below the knee and sequin-sparkle became the ultimate evening look. These undulating metallic discs, beads and rhinestones cast a hypnotic spell when they moved. Sheer beaded outfits were embraced on the Jazz Age dancefloor, inspired by Hollywood starlets that included silent movie stars such as Anna May Wong, pictured here in 1927.
Sequin turtlenecks are all over the high street this season. Joan Crawford went one better in 1934 and added a wondrous sci-fi ruff to hers. Is it a cape? Is it a spacesuit? Who the hell cares? It’s fabulous and we want one.
‘Glamour is what I sell, it’s my stock and trade,’ Marlene Dietrich once told a reporter. Boy, did she mean it. The actress was always fully in charge of her wardrobe – both on and off the screen. She knew who she was and what she liked, as thiis still from Billy Wilder’s 1948 comedy A Foreign Affair gloriously illustrates. She was very fond of her – as she put it herself – ‘illusion’ gowns: slinky dresses embellished with strategically-placed sequins that gave a playful, nude effect.
Whilst everyone swoons over Rita Hayworth’s strapless black Gilda dress, we’ve opted to gush about this lesser-known, INCREDIBLE two-piece from the same 1946 film. The studio reportedly invested $60,000 to dress Rita for Gilda alone. Singing ‘Amado Mio’ in this white beaded number we’re tempted to say it was worth every penny…
Now this is what we call double trouble. Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell knew how to make an entrance. When they did it together in 1953 musical classic Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, it was sheer magic on screen. These matching sequin dresses with revealing thigh-splits were designed by Monroe’s favourite costume designer, William Travilla, and showcase their enviable curves to the max.
According to the V&A Museum, The Supremes embraced skintight sequin dresses to maximise their impact under the bright television lighting. As you can see from this 1960s photograph, Diana, Mary and Flo’s killer outfits were inspired by the big screen. There’s a simple reason for this: they were designed by Hollywood designers Bob Mackie and Michael Travis. The Supremes’ spectacular stage look didn’t come cheap. According to reports, their dresses were so extravagant that they often cost up to $2,000 each.
Sequins went sci-fi in this 1968 cult release – and boy, did Jane Fonda rock this futuristic look with buckets of sex appeal. According to reports, Spanish designer Paco Rabanne created this iconic green, plastic disc mini dress. Futuristic armour has never looked so good.
All hail, Tina Turner. She will always be the Queen of sequins to us. We can’t think of a single other performer whose wardrobe matches their electric presence on stage so perfectly. This late 1970s costume is on fire and we love it.
It wouldn’t be a celebration of sequins without a snap from New York’s legendary nightclub, Studio 54. So here’s the fabulous Elizabeth Taylor wearing what seems to be a purple sequinned jumpsuit by Halston. From 1968 to 1973, Roy Halston Frowick’s line earned him an estimated $30 million. In the 1970s, it was the disco label to be seen in.
We don’t know where to start with this outfit. Introducing ’70s Cher: a disco jedi on the dancefloor in a sequinned hood and matching bandeau. We doubt anyone else – except Grace Jones – could pull off this look. Maybe that’s for the best…
No one could ever accuse Madge of shying away from the red carpet. The New York premiere for In Bed With Madonna in 1991 was no exception. Clad in thigh-high knee socks with a sequinned, multicolour Dolce & Gabbana bustier, Madonna wowed the Ziegfeld Theatre. What’s more, we’re still talking about this fearless outfit 14 years later.
If you’re going to name your 30th party after F. Scott Fitzgerald’s infamous 1922 book about the Jazz Age, you better pick a cracking outfit that does it justice. Thankfully the birthday girl in question was modern-day flapper, Kate Moss. Enough said.
You can rely on Lady Gaga to elevate the humble sequin to new dizzying heights. Catwoman’s got competition on her hands, here.
Not only is Beyonce a massive fan of the glitzy sequin, she also knows how to bring it bang up-to-date, as this 2014 Mrs Carter World Tour photo illustrates nicely. Top marks goes to Tom Ford for recreating the look, giving it a modern edge. The sports jersey has never looked so good.