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5 Sparkling Facts About Sequins

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Getty Images

It’s not an official requirement, but the Olympics wouldn't be the same without a bit of sparkle and pageantry. At the Opening Ceremony for the 2016 Rio Olympics, supermodel Gisele Bündchen set the tone in a dress covered in gold sequins, a garment that took four months to create.

Now a common material in the fashion and costuming industries and in high-visibility, performance-based events like parades and stage shows, there is actually more to the history of sequins than you might know.

1. THEY DATE BACK TO ANCIENT EGYPT.

In 1922, archaeologists discovered King Tutankhamun’s tomb and became the first people to enter it in more than 3000 years. The rooms of the tomb were filled with many signs of Tut’s wealth, including a solid gold coffin. Inside the coffin, the young mummified king’s body was found draped in lavish garments with what Smithsonian.com described as “gold sequinlike disks” sewn onto them.   

2. LEONARDO DA VINCI INVENTED A SEQUIN MACHINE.

A prolific inventor, Leonardo da Vinci had ideas for many machines that he never got around to building. One of his sketches from the early 1480s is of a device that would use pulleys and what appear to be weights to make gold sequins. Da Vinci’s reasons for designing the machine are still unknown, but the Smithsonian believes it may have been for fashion or something more “utilitarian.”

3. THEY WERE ONCE MADE FROM ANIMAL PARTS.

From the solid gold of Ancient Egypt to the metal coins that inspired the word "sequin" in the 13th century, sequins have gone through many phases to become the plastic disks we know today.

In the 1930s, sequins were made of gelatin from animal carcasses because the material could be rolled into sheets and punched into shapes. The problem was that gelatin melts when too much heat is applied, and it also dissolves in water. Wearing sequin dresses in the rain was a disaster, and they obviously couldn't be cleaned using washing machines, so the collagen style didn't survive the decade.

4. WORLD WAR II CHANGED SEQUIN PRODUCTION.

Herbert Lieberman of the Algy Trimmings Co. was a pioneer of sequin production in the United States whose customers included everyone from the Ringling Brothers to Elizabeth Taylor. In an interview with Derek McCormack, Lieberman said that his father had to learn how to make sequins himself when the supply in Europe “dried up” during the Second World War. Working with Eastman Kodak (the camera company), Algy was able to get his sequin material custom made out of clear plastic.

“Eastman Kodak was producing acetate for their film stock,” Lieberman explained. “They plated it on one side with real silver. They coated the silver with a clear ink of the color we desired. They colored the other side as well ... The light would penetrate through the color, hit the silver, and reflect back.”

The new sequins ran the risk of cracking like glass because of the acetate, but they were more versatile and less fragile than the alternative. 

5. A NORWEGIAN FIGURE SKATER BROUGHT SEQUINS TO THE OLYMPICS.  

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Sequins have become a standard part of the Olympic dress code for sports like gymnastics and skating, but that wasn’t always the case. In the late 1920s, figure skater Sonja Henie changed the Games with her white boots, choreography, and short skirts, which gave her more range of motion and helped her perform jumps on the ice. No doubt influenced by the flapper style of the period, Lieberman says that the three-time Olympic champion was also the first in the sport to add Algy’s sequins to her outfits.

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Why Do Wimbledon Players Wear All White?
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Matthew Stockman, Getty Images

by James Hunt

Wimbledon's dress code is one of the most famous in sports. The rules, which specify that players must dress "almost entirely in white," are so strict that the referee can force players to change under threat of disqualification. In the past, many of the sport's top players have found themselves on the wrong end of this rule—but where did it come from?

It's believed that the rule stems from the 1800s, when tennis was a genteel sport played primarily at social gatherings, particularly by women. The sight of sweaty patches on colored clothing was considered to be inappropriate, so the practice of wearing predominantly white clothing—a.k.a. tennis whites—was adopted to avoid embarrassment. The All England Club, which hosts Wimbledon, was founded in 1868 (initially as the All England Croquet Club) and introduced Lawn Tennis in 1875.

Quite simply, the club is just a stickler for tradition. Recently issued guidelines for clothing include statements such as "White does not include off-white or cream," that colored trim can be "no wider than one centimeter," and that "undergarments that either are or can be visible during play (including due to perspiration)" are not allowed. That's right: even players' underwear has to be white.

The rules have rubbed many famous tennis players the wrong way. In 2013, former Wimbledon champion Roger Federer was told not to wear his orange-soled trainers after they were judged to have broken The All England Club's dress code. In 2002, Anna Kournikova was forced to replace her black shorts with a pair of white ones borrowed from her coach. And Andre Agassi refused to play at Wimbledon in the earlier years of his career because his signature denim shorts and garish tops were banned.

The all-white clothing rule isn't the only piece of baggage that accompanies Wimbledon's long history. It's the only Grand Slam tournament that's still played on a grass court, and the only one that schedules a day off on the middle Sunday of the tournament.

However, the club is not immune to change. In 2003 a long-standing tradition of requiring players to bow or curtsey to the Royal Box on the Centre Court was discontinued by the Duke of Kent (who also happens to be The All England Club's president) who deemed it anachronistic—though the requirement does stand if the Queen or Prince of Wales is in attendance—and in 2007 the prizes for the men's and women's tournaments were made equal. The all-white clothing rule may be annoying for players, but at least the club has shown it can change with the times in the areas where it really matters.

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An Eco-Friendly Startup Is Converting Banana Peels Into Fabric for Clothes
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iStock

A new startup has found a unique way to tackle pollution while simultaneously supporting sustainable fashion. Circular Systems, a “clean-tech new materials company,” is transforming banana byproducts, pineapple leaves, sugarcane bark, and flax and hemp stalk into natural fabrics, according to Fast Company.

These five crops alone meet more than twice the global demand for fibers, and the conversion process provides farmers with an additional revenue stream, according to the company’s website. Fashion brands like H&M and Levi’s are already in talks with Circular Systems to incorporate some of these sustainable fibers into their clothes.

Additionally, Circular Systems recycles used clothing to make new fibers, and another technology called Orbital spins those textile scraps and crop byproducts together to create a durable type of yarn.

People eat about 100 billion bananas per year globally, resulting in 270 million tons of discarded peels. (Americans alone consume 3.2 billion pounds of bananas annually.) Although peels are biodegradable, they emit methane—a greenhouse gas—during decomposition. Crop burning, on the other hand, is even worse because it causes significant air pollution.

As Fast Company points out, using leaves and bark to create clothing may seem pretty groundbreaking, but 97 percent of the fibers used in clothes in 1960 were natural. Today, that figure is only 35 percent.

However, Circular Systems has joined a growing number of fashion brands and textile companies that are seeking out sustainable alternatives. Gucci has started incorporating a biodegradable material into some of its sunglasses, Bolt Threads invented a material made from mushroom filaments, and pineapple “leather” has been around for a couple of years now.

[h/t Fast Company]

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