When it comes to seasonal sparkle, there’s not much that can compete with the timeless sequin, and those tiny, light-catching disks have been an instant ticket to glamour for thousands of years. The joy of sequins is in their boldness and that enduring spirit is a quality that can find a place and distinct meaning in any era.
The earliest documented appearance can be traced to ancient Egypt. When archeologists discovered the tomb of King Tutankhamun in 1922, the mummy of the young pharaoh was dressed in garments arrayed with gold disks that resemble contemporary sequins. In addition to serving as opulent adornment, they were meant to bankroll his way through the next life. For centuries in cultures across Asia, Africa, and the Americas, it was common to affix metal coins and baubles to one’s clothing, whether to keep them close at hand or flaunt wealth and status. The word “sequin” is derived from “sikka,” the Arabic word for “coin” or “minting die.”
The sequin experienced a huge resurgence in the post-World War I landscape of the 1920s—women were more liberated than ever, working and socializing outside the home to an unprecedented degree (and able to vote). Corsets were sidelined, hemlines rose, and sequins made modern flapper frocks glisten under the lights of speakeasies and night clubs.
Midcentury film sirens of the 1940s and 1950s held the camera’s focus in curve-hugging, sparkling gowns. Sequined mini dresses from the 1960s were a sartorial signal of the youthquake and telegraphed dreams of a high-gloss, technologically advanced future. And in the 1970s charismatic musicians, like Diana Ross and Debbie Harry, made iconic fashion statements in sequined looks that combined grit and glamour under the lights of the stage.
By the 1980s, when power dressing meant making a bold, eye-popping statement, sequins had another moment in the spotlight, along with shoulder pads, big hair, and neon colors. The glamazons of nighttime soaps, especially Dynasty’s Joan Collins, set the pace in gowns by Nolan Miller.
Even in the new norm of casual clothing and all-day athleisure, sequins still evoke the same daring spirit and bold sense of style as they did decades ago. Flecks of sequins add a dash of festive flair that makes basics feel special. They’re being applied to relaxed silhouettes, like knitwear, jeans and jackets, that are low key and easy to wear while, say, homeschooling a ten-year-old or logging in to a Zoom holiday party. And when the opportunity arises, they’ll be ready to leave the house for a few special occasions this year, too.
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