There’s a photo of Selena Gomez I’ve had saved on my phone since March. First, it was the background of my lock screen, then my home screen, and now it lives among images of Dev Patel in The Green Knight and Zendaya’s latest sartorial home run in an Instagram folder simply titled “MOOD.” At one point, I texted it to my roommate (she was in the other room), musing “can we make this my vibe for 2021?” In the shot, which was part of her cover shoot for Vogue’s March issue, Gomez is photographed as if caught setting the table for a chic garden dinner party, artfully balancing a stack of plates in one hand and a yellow jug bursting with white roses in the other.
It’s a gorgeous set, but the vibe I’m coveting has nothing to do with being at parties or around people (although that would be nice). It has everything to do with Gomez’s gown: a floor-length orange and white sequinned Gucci dress with ruffled light blue cuffs. My immediate reaction was: I want to wear that. It’s the same thought I had months later when I saw Zara Rahim post a photo of herself on Twitter in a cropped white tank top and sparkly pants, and Timothée Chalamet at the Venice Film Festival premiere of Dune in head-to-toe sequinned Haider Ackermann.
The throughline? Sequins.
Sequins that sure, I could wear to a formal event one day, but also that I could easily picture myself donning for a walk to my local coffee shop on a Saturday morning, ordering my standard almond milk latte and breakfast sandwich, then handing over my Visa, my sleeve glinting in the sunlight.
I’m not the only one who suddenly thinks sequins play as well with white sneakers as they do heels and a red carpet. While Rahim’s pants and Chalamet’s all-over sparkle were for more formal events, a quick scan of Zara and SSENSE, my TikTok FYP, fashion weeks, Lesley Hampton’s latest collection, hell even my neighbourhood parkette, show that the favourite fabric of five-year-olds and Met-Gala attendees is suddenly for the everyday.
Which makes perfect sense.
After a year of staying primarily at home and dressing for comfort (my tracksuit collection pulled double duty as both physical and emotional sources of support), we’ve been sartorially stunted so to speak, and people are starting to feel it, experiencing what Shakaila Forbes-Bell , Afterpay's in-house fashion psychologist, describes as “loungewear fatigue.” (Think, a fashion version of Groundhog Day but with leggings and elastic waistbands.)
While our quarantine essentials like comfy pants and cozy slippers will continue to translate into real-world outfits like jeggings and sneakers, we are more than ready to dress up more, at least according to recent buying trends. There's been an upward tick in popularity in hues like metallics — which we may have previously associated with a night out on the town; going-out shoes like pumps and heels also trending, according to a recent North American trend report. "People haven’t been able to express that creativity and fun through their wardrobe," says Forbes-Bell. Because of this, our desire to wear our dressy “outside clothing,” is in high gear — even if it’s just a lunch meeting or, like in my sequinned daydream, a morning coffee with friends.
New York-based Illustrator Julie Houts encapsulated this ethos perfectly when she posted on Instagram an illustration of the anticipated post-pandemic look featuring a woman in stilettos and a strappy fuchsia sequinned gown with a thigh-high slit. Even fashion writers have been sharing their own nostalgia for such peacocking, and how their post-COVID philosophy of dressing up has become a mindset rather than relegated to a specific occasion.
As fashion historian and author Alison Matthews David notes, after going through a frankly isolating and traumatic period of time, people may have an aversion to clothing that reminds them of it. “I do think that there will potentially be a feeling of ennui where people won’t want to wear some of the clothing that they associate emotionally and physically with the worst of the pandemic,” she says. Wearing shiny pretty things morning, noon, or night, literally feels like a fresh start.
As with everything in fashion, we’ve seen this trend before — exactly a hundred years ago in fact and following another deadly pandemic, the Spanish flu. The roaring 20s were synonymous with opulence and glamour (not to mention misquoted lines from The Great Gatsby). Emerging from this time of upheaval, David says, “modern women’s clothing, like the shorter dresses of the flappers, were more streamlined and reflected new ways of being and new class, gender, and social structures ushered in by those events.” Women swapped corsets and bustles for more joyful (and less-constricting!) fabrics like silk and accessories like feather boas and tassels.
This psychological lift via the clothes we wear is something Forbes-Bell and others have referred to as “dopamine dressing,” the idea that the core principle behind why people dress the way they do is to fulfil an emotional need. “A lot of people think it’s simply a case of, ‘wear a bright sequinned yellow jumper and you’ll be happy,’ she says. But it's more than that: “We ascribe certain values to things that have sentimental value or things we associate with fun, creativity, and joy. And when we wear those items we embody those traits and then subsequently we get that feel-good hormone.”
For me, sequins (which honestly I last wore in 1999, when I was a six-year-old, leotard-clad butterfly for my dance recital) are fulfilling my need to feel anything but numb and un-inspired. Eleven months into the pandemic and over sad WFH fits, I decided to quit my years-long quest to pare down my clothes into the elusive “capsule wardrobe,” and wear what made me feel good, fulfilled, and most importantly, alive. Which is exactly why Gomez, Rahim, and Chalamet in sequins spoke to me. Because, after over a year of dreariness and sadness, what else says "let’s celebrate life" like a disco ball-inspired piece of clothing, literally radiating light off of your body?
For Forbes-Bell, post-pandemic style will have its extremes just like my own fashion 180. There’ll be people who are desperate to go full out day-to-day, and there’ll also be those who want to keep it strictly athleisure. “But a lot of us will find ourselves somewhere in the middle, balancing that desire for comfort with that desire to dress up and have fun and be creative.” (Which means this is your moment to buy a full sequin tracksuit.)
Content creator and fashion lover Mirian Njoh, whose style was bold and colourful even pre-pandemic, knows exactly how she’ll be styling sequins come fall. For one, she’ll let them be the star of the outfit. “It’s like if sequins were the art, the rest of the outfit would be the frame," Njoh says. For example, pairing a sequin mini-skirt with a band tee and trainers. “It's undeniably daywear; no one would confuse that as a nighttime outfit, but it's a bold, exciting daywear outfit.”
Regardless of whether or not you decide to incorporate sequins into your daily rotation, the BSM (big sequin mentality) remains. This fall will be all about wearing what you want, when you want to, fashion conventions be damned. In that way, I guess sequins are more of a mindset.
As for me, I’ve got my eye on (or at least, with a $2,600 price tag, am seriously lusting over but can't afford), a pair of Paco Rabanne Harry Styles-approved sequin pants that’ll be perfect for my next brunch. Life’s too short not to wear the damn sequins.