Why are we so drawn to shiny, pretty things? Maybe it’s in our DNA. Adding a bit of sparkle and shine to apparel is an idea as old as apparel itself, and, as any five-year-old girls birthday party will attest to, our draw to shiny is about as primal as air. No matter what your history, there is a strong possibility that your ancestors had their own reasons to embellish and the same predilection to sparkly.
Jewels and precious metals have been a part of royal apparel for centuries as a way to signify status and power. In ancient Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures, “coins” were sewn onto the apparel of wealthy women as a way of storing and displaying a family’s wealth. Traveling gypsies and nomadic tribes often sewed coins onto their clothing to ensure their possessions were with them at all times, and, in many cultures shiny objects and medallions sewn onto clothing are believed to ward off evil spirits and reflect the spirit of the divine.
The word sequin is derived from the Arabic word “sikka” or coin. In 13th century Venice, gold was rolled into thin sheets then pressed into small discs for sewing called “zecchino”. In fact, many believe that one of Leonardo Di Vinci’s early inventions was a machine to press these small discs out of gold. The French later adapted the shiny accoutrement as the sequin.
Early versions of the modern sequin were made of gelatin. Yes, gelatin, the primary ingredient in Jell-O. For obvious reasons, this was not ideal. Gelatin made beautifully delicate, opaque baubles but these gems would melt when exposed to heat and disintegrate when exposed to water. Yuck. Their volatility, expense and adversity to any laundering process kept sequins in the realm of couture for decades.
With the advent of commercial plastics around 1940, a clever American inventor had an idea. He used technology from the photographic industry and applied silver to one side of a colored plastic disc. The result: the silver reflected light through the clear colored plastic and a vibrant, shimmering, lightweight, washable sequin was born!
Submitted by Mary