Spangles, also known as sequins or pail-lettes, are small, flat, circular ornaments usually made of metal, metallicized plastic, or other light-reflecting materials. Their primary use is to embellish apparel and accessories. Whereas beads are three-dimensional, spangles are essentially two-dimensional and can be overlapped to produce linear patterns.
The word "sequin" derives from the name of a small gold coin, the zecchino, which it resembles. The zecchino was introduced in Venice in 1284. Chequeen, a variant of the word, appeared in the English language in the late 1500s. By the nineteenth century, the word "sequin" was preferred to "spangle."
Historically, spangles, (which were once also known as "oes," because of their shape) were made by twisting gold or silver wire around a thin metal rod. The metal rings were cut off and hammered flat, resulting in a circular object with a central hole used to stitch it in place. In the 1920s, sequins were sometimes made of gelatin. In the twenty-first century, they are stamped out from plastic sheeting.
Spangles were a popular form of embellishment for the clothing of the aristocracy from the sixteenth through the eighteenth century. A host of sumptuary laws governing the dress of all classes of society prevented their being worn by anyone not of the nobility. In the seventeenth century, spangles were used to decorate men's and women's bodices, gloves, and shoes, as well as embroidered boxes and other decorative household items. In the eighteenth century, they appeared on muffs, Women's Shoes gowns, and on men's coats and waistcoats. In the nineteenth century, sequins were still seen on court dress but they were also available to the general population. In the twentieth century, a craze for sequined "flapper" dresses emerged briefly during the 1920s. In the twenty-first century, sequins use in the apparel industry is primarily confined to womenswear and to the entertainment industry.
While other contemporary light-reflecting materials such as Lurex offer competition, designers including Norman Norell, Bob Mackie, and Carolina Herrera have used, and continue to use, sequins to produce eye-catching, shimmering evening wear.
Campbell, R. The London Tradesman. London: T. Gardiner, 1747. Reprint, Newton Abbot, England: David and Charles, 1969.
Rivers, Victoria Z. The Shining Cloth: Dress and Adornment that Glitters. London and New York: Thames and Hudson, Inc., 1999.