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A fashion editor’s guide to wearing sequins

A fashion editor’s guide to wearing sequins


by Marie Kelly
04th Dec 2023

It’s that very special time of year when our sensible side gives way to our inner disco diva. Marie Kelly explains how to dazzle from dawn to dusk this December.

There’s no watershed for wearing sequins at Christmas time. Nor is it ever too early in the day to eat mince pies and chocolate Celebrations. We say good riddance to our entire rule book in December, and this is what makes it the most wonderful time of the year. From January through to November, sparkles are saved for special occasions; they’re the After Eights of your wardrobe. But from the moment you unapologetically eat that first Advent calendar chocolate for breakfast, the (non-sequinned) gloves are off.

Think of it as the magic of Christmas; our wardrobes literally double in size as all of those embellished items bought, worn once, and shelved ’til the next suitable occasion suddenly take on superpowers. Like Dorothy’s ruby slippers, they have transportive abilities. The embellished collar of a sparkly shirt is exactly what you need to elevate a crew neck sweater from mundane to magical. A sequinned skirt makes sense of a conservative white button- front during the party season, while sparkly sweatshirts hit just the right note between lively and laid-back.

At any other time of year, sequins are as divisive as Brexit. Some women are for and some are firmly against. Labels like The Row and old Celine, and the rise of Scandi style with its penchant for subdued neutrals and natural materials, have made anything sparkly look like the preserve of the Real Housewives. Perhaps this is because, as Lady Gaga once put it, “sequins represent a good time”, which is all very well at Christmas, but nobody wants to look like they’re having too good a time all of the time.

It’s ironic that something which used to define the elevated status of an elite few came to be considered as cheap and nasty. In centuries past, coins and precious metals were sewn onto clothes to confer rank and wealth. In fact, Henry VIII enacted a “Sumptuary Law” in 1574, which declared that only duchesses, marchionesses and countesses were allowed to wear certain cloths and embellishments, so that an individual’s rank could be recognised at first glance. Back then, the more bling on an outfit, the more revered the individual.

Sequin snobbery is really rooted in fear; nobody wants to look like the foil wrapper of a chocolate Celebration

Might sequin snobbery be at an end, though? The Guardian reported that in the week after Tess Daly hosted Strictly Come Dancing wearing a pink and silver sequinned Rixo dress (not unlike the giant glitter ball the winning couple of the dance competition takes home), sales of the dress quadrupled. Claudia Winkleman opened that same series wearing a red sequinned suit from Zara. Both women are proof that sequins are neither just for Christmas nor only for millennials. I guess our sequin snobbery (like most other kinds) is really rooted in fear; nobody wants to look like the foil wrapper of that chocolate Celebration they ate for breakfast rather than a Strictly star.

Bringing sparkle to an outfit in a way that’s grand, not gauche, especially in the daytime, takes a certain deft touch. I’d begin with a neutralising piece, a white shirt, a navy slip skirt, etc. and build an outfit from there. Tactile textures also play an important balancing act when you want to take sequins from desk to dinner.

As a general guideline, I tend to adopt a 1970s-style silhouette when braving sequins (a pair of wide-leg trousers and a sequin shirt, for instance). It was the anti-shine decade, so the contrast tends to appear modern and fresh. Anything shiny in an 80s silhouette is trickier to pull off; the fashion front row may oooh and aaah at Saint Laurent’s collections each year, but few are queuing up to wear them.

Nobody wants to look like Britney in Vegas, after all. What you want this month is to look like you’re as unfazed wearing sequins as you are a pair of denims. You’re reaching for nonchalant and effortless, remember. Costume designer Edith Head once said, “Some women need sequins. Others don’t.” I disagree; because when life gives you lemons, forget about making lemonade. Just throw on a sparkly top instead.

Photography by Jason Lloyd Evans. Featured photography of @greceghanem, @leoniehanne and @wendyswan. This article originally appeared in the December 2019 issue of IMAGE Magazine.