From Biba To Studio 54: A Brief History Of Iconic Sequin Looks

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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.

Image credit: Rex
Image credit: Rex
Image credit: Rex
Image credit: Rex
Image credit: REX
Image credit: Rex
Image credit: Rex

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