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Why Is the World Obsessed With Sparkles? Decoding the Shimmering Trend’s Undeniable Charm

Shoes, Christian Louboutin; bag, Fendi. Photo: Alexander Ermakov

Forget tinsel and fairylights – if fashion has a say, this festive season, it will be glitter dresses, paillette-emblazoned skirts, and shimmering bralets that will shine brightest. In the ever-evolving world of fashion, few trends have demonstrated the enduring appeal and versatile charm of glitter. From the runway to the red carpet, it has been a constant, a brilliant thread that weaves through decades of style. Its ability to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary and to elevate the mundane to the magical has made it a beloved staple on runways and in closets.

Dress, Valentino. Photo: Alexander Ermakov

Top, skirt, scarf, earrings; Rabanne H&M; shoes, Christian Louboutin. Photo: Alexander Ermakov

Bag, Chanel. Photo: Alexander Ermakov

The origins of glitter in fashion can be traced back to ancient civilizations, where it was not just a decorative element but a symbol of status and power. Ancient Egyptians incorporated gold dust in their cosmetics, imbuing a literal sparkle into their appearance. Cleopatra crushed beetles for their shine. Even earlier, there are flecks of twinkling mica – a reflective rock still used in eye shadow today – to be found in cave paintings dating to 30 000 years ago. This historical connection to luxury and extravagance has been carried into modern fashion, where glitter is often associated with opulence and festivity. The shine, after all, evokes jewels and precious metals, making its association with wealth and power overt. The Tudors loved sewing silver into their opulent outfits;
the less prosperous reverted to pewter.

Shoes, bag, Dolce & Gabbana; bracelet, Cartier. Photo: Alexander Ermakov

Dress, Dolce & Gabbana; bracelet, Swarovski. Photo: Alexander Ermakov

Top, skirt, Rabanne H&M. Photo: Alexander Ermakov

However, glitter’s role in fashion isn’t just confined to luxury. It has been a tool for self- expression and rebellion, especially in the 20th century. One of the most iconic glitter accessories is the pair of ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland as Dorothy in the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz. Made from white pumps dyed red and covered with sequins and beads, the shoes were a symbol
of fantasy and adventure – and a pair of them (at least five pairs were made for the film) fetched US$666,000 in an auction in 2000. The 1970s saw glitter as a central element in the glam rock movement, with artists like David Bowie using it to challenge traditional gender norms and to create a sense of otherworldly allure. This era elevated glitter from a mere decorative element to a symbol of counterculture and freedom of expression.

Bag, GIvenchy. Photo: Alexander Ermakov

Dress, Prada. Photo: Alexander Ermakov

Bag, Prada. Photo: Alexander Ermakov

Today, glitter has seamlessly integrated into both high fashion and street style. Designers have incorporated glitter in their collections, proving that it can be both avant-garde and commercially appealing. Whether it’s a fully sequined gown, a pair of shimmering boots, or a subtle glittery accent, these pieces speak to a desire for a touch of whimsy and wonder in our wardrobes. Chanel’s Resort 2024 offering included infinitely wearable glitter knee-length skirts paired with the maison’s signature jackets, as well as newfangled tea dresses and rainbow-hued, long- sleeved crop tops. Prada SS24 paired gold fringe skirts with equally fringed floral-printed shirts; its shine featuring the edge so typical of the Italian maverick house. The skirts were “built like jewelry,” co-creative director Raf Simons said after the show. For Fall 23, Michael Kors Collection subverted the expected metal hues with black and biscuit-colored bell-sleeved gowns, but still brought Studio 54 vibes with a shimmering silver full-length bodysuit, while bellbottom flares stitched with micro sequins glisten with each emphasized step. Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana can also be counted on for flash and excess, and Fall 23 doesn’t disappoint, with unabashedly gold dresses corseted with more metal, and equally striking off-shoulder midi dresses. At Bottega Veneta Resort 2024, Matthieu Blazy continued his exploration of unexpected fabrics and materials with a trompe-l’oeil viscose skirt and paillette gown, looking for all the world like sunlight shimmering on water.

Dress, shoes, Balenciaga; necklace, bracelet, Swarovski. Photo: Alexander Ermakov

Bag, Louis Vuitton. Photo: Alexander Ermakov

Top, skirt, Gucci; shoes, Dolce & Gabbana. Photo: Alexander Ermakov

“Sparkle is immediately associated with having a good time,” says Kuwaiti designer Bazza Alzouman, who included a gown made from silver rhinestone netting in her FW23 collection. “It takes pieces in a more outgoing, daring direction and it adds a bit of playfulness and confidence.” A strapless column gown is another shimmering showstopper for the designer, as well as dresses with rhinestone bodice details or single long sleeves creating interest in otherwise clean lines. “I love working with different materials, such as the rhinestone mesh used this season, because it transforms a silhouette and communicates a different feeling. Since I don’t work with embroidery or beading, using a shiny fabric or something that glitters allows me to incorporate that feeling of light in a different way. Sparkle can be modern and fun,” Alzouman adds.

Bag, Dior; bracelet, Swarovski. Photo: Alexander Ermakov

Dress, BOttega Veneta; ring, Swarovski. Photo: Alexander Ermakov

Sustainability, however, has become a critical consideration in its use in fashion. Traditional glitter is made from plastics that pose environmental risks. In a move to drastically cut microplastic pollution, the EU has recently passed legislation banning insoluble plastic particles smaller than 5mm, such as the loose glitter used in makeup. The fashion industry has also responded by exploring eco-friendly alternatives like biodegradable glitter, ensuring that the sparkle we love doesn’t come at the cost of the environment. The transformative power of glitter lies in its ability to make the wearer stand out. It’s a celebration of individuality and boldness, a nod to the idea that fashion should be fun and liberating. This is perhaps why glitter has never truly gone out of style. It adapts, changes, and finds new ways to shine, reflecting the changing desires and attitudes of society. Sometimes, all we need is a little sparkle to brighten our day.

Originally published in the December 2023 issue of Vogue Arabia

Read Next: Glitter Ban: How Sparkles Are Harming the Planet — And Which Alternatives To Look at Instead

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