Sequins: An Unexpected History

Sequins appear in every fashion season it seems. This time, they hit the runway for spring 2018.

Sequins actually have a rich deep history, one as unexpected and unique as the styles created using them. As far back as ancient Egypt little metal disks were used on royalty. Evidence for this was found on King Tutankhamun when his tomb was unearthed in 1922. The small disks made of gold were sewn into his clothing and believed to aid him in his after life.

This preparation for the afterlife and sequins was not just exclusive to ancient Egyptians. Throughout Europe and the Middle East variations of the small shiny disks can be found. Symbolizing status, spiritual guidance, or for even practicality.

How would these translate into everyday life? From the 17th century through the 19th century “sequins” were used to show statues. Ladies of certain weath would adorn their clothes with the little metal circles in elaborate designs. As spiritual guidance the disks could be added to garments to aid in the afterlife, or make sure the deceased was taken care of on their new journey. The purpose for sequins could also have been as simple as wearing your wealth if a person was nomadic — it made it harder for people to steal if you were wearing your wealth after all.

But back to King Tut. Upon his reintroduction to society Western civilation was deep in its Egyptian craze (the 1920’s). Fashion has always been influenced by current events and it was no different back then as flappers began adoring their dresses with the little cut metal disks. The sequin was flourishing like never before but there was just one problem: they were heavy. Wearing a dress covered in little fragments of metal? Especially when you were trying to drance and have a night on the town? The old way of creating sequins was not going to cut it in this new era of movement.

Fast forward to the 30’s and a method to create sequins out of gelatin (yes you read that correctly, gelatin) was a created. While now lightweight, this new method brought itsown problems. It didn’t manage to withstand getting wet or warm, which meant dancing was out of the question because the moment you got warm or sweat, the sequins would melt.

Not to mention the color used on them was lead based. But then again, what wasn’t lead based at the time?

It wasn’t until Herbert Lieberman came around and began working to form a new method of creating sequins was there any actual success for the tiny sparkly adnorment. His first attempts resulted plastics that were still too delicate for withstanding wear however. In 1952 DuPont invented the plastic Mylar, and with that, the sequins known today started to take form. Working with Lieberman’s company, Algy Trimming Co. they developed a polyester plastic  which was covered by a Mylar film, essentially protecting it from wear and the now popular house hold washing machine. Vinyl eventually replaced Mylar, which resulted in a sturdier, albeit less sparkly, material.

Which is were the sequin of today comes into play. The tiny product that has managed to withstand fashion throughout decades and only grow in popularity has a long ancestors most would be surprised of. I doubt the tiny plastic is done just yet, and who knows what newest methods will be found to enhance it in the future.

Categories: Uncategorized

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