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Dust off the sequins and unpack the bedazzler — sparkle is back

Models walk the runway during Gucci Love Parade in Los Angeles in November.
(1) Amy Sussman/Getty Images; (2,3) Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Gucci
Models walk the runway during Gucci Love Parade in Los Angeles in November.

At New York Fashion Week earlier this fall, model Gigi Hadid coolly strutted the runway in shimmery gold lounge pants tucked into blue satin heels with a knotted green sequin button-down on top. Silver and gold chains ringed her wrists, a diamond choker rested around her neck and a bedazzled purse hung at her side.

Nearly all of the looks designer Tom Ford sent down the runway for his spring 2022 collection were just as shiny — from a bomber jacket glimmering with golden chainmail to a floor-length silver sequin duster. And while his show may have been an extreme, it wasn't an outlier. The runways this fall were awash with shine.

Models walk the runway for Tom Ford during New York Fashion Week in September.
JP Yim / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Models walk the runway for Tom Ford during New York Fashion Week in September.

"What caught my eye the most was this extravagance in all forms," says Jessica Testa, a reporter for The New York Times Style section, who was at the runway shows this fall. "Big color, big patterns. And, of course, sequins, sparkles, metallics and rhinestones."

Testa says one thing was clear: None of the outfits were meant for staying home. They were meant to be seen.

While glitz and glam pop up around the holidays every year, it's different this time, and likely to persist well into the spring. After nearly two years of living in sweats in the shadow of a pandemic, people — and fashion designers and brands — are ready to step out and catch the light.

"People know the world hasn't gone back to normal," Testa says. "Like, sure, we're post-pandemic, but we're also not really post-pandemic, right? But people are trying to go back to their lives and when the world around you is still very dark and you decide to dress to the nines, I think there's something very like middle finger in the air about that."

It's not just the runways making a statement. Buyers are flocking to second-hand stores as well, scooping up every bit of glitter they can find. Shilla Kim-Parker is the CEO and co-founder of Thrilling, a massive vintage online marketplace, where she says they've seen the desire to shine play out big time.

"We're seeing folks having a lot of fun with what they're wearing — sequins, things that are shiny and bright, even chainmail," Kim-Parker says.

A model shines in vintage clothing and jewelry.
Oye Diran / Thrilling
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Thrilling
A model shines in vintage clothing and jewelry.

The colors gold, silver and red represent nearly 30% of Thrilling's current sales, she says — a ten-times increase from last year. Statement jewelry is up five fold, while 80's clothing, with all its bold colors and over-the-top glam, is flying off the virtual shelves.

But sparkle doesn't have to be big to count, Kim-Parker points out.

"I just bought some vintage rhinestone brooches because I was thinking even if I'm wearing a secondhand sweatshirt, you know, I want to bedazzle it in some way ... even if it's just for my little Zoom window," she laughs.

A collection of vintage jewelry ready to add sparkle to any outfit.
Oye Diran / Thrilling
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Thrilling
A collection of vintage jewelry ready to add sparkle to any outfit.

This desire for a little (or a lot of) glam after so much darkness doesn't surprise fashion-watchers like Kate Bellman, lead fashion editor for Nordstrom, where there's a whole team working to predict trends. She says they've been tracking the rise in glitter demand for quite a while.

"What I think is actually really cool about what we're seeing modern day in terms of the glam and the glitz and the sparkle, is that they really saw it coming in terms of the historical context from the roaring 20s," Bellman says.

The sequined flapper dresses and rhinestone-encrusted headbands that we associate with the 1920s were a response to the 1918 flu pandemic, and the first world war. There was a lot of death, and people were finally ready to step out again and be seen. Feel familiar?

Models walk the runway for Tom Ford during New York Fashion Week in September.
JP Yim / Getty Images
/
Getty Images
Models walk the runway for Tom Ford during New York Fashion Week in September.

What Bellman says is particularly special this time around, though, is that people are not saving the shine for parties — especially since parties are getting cancelled again.

"I mean, I've seen people in sequin tops at the grocery store. I've seen people in sparkle shoes on public transportation," she says. "I think we're just starting to see it be more reflective of how people feel, just wearing it sort of in this versatile way — which I, as a fashion person, find so exciting, inspiring."

Jessica Testa says it might be easy to write off this trend as simple, sparkly fun — but you'd be missing a big part of it.

"There is some real emotion behind it," she says. "There's some defiance, there's some irony, there's some real persistence that I appreciate."

So pull out those sequins. Bust out that bedazzler. Roll on the glitter.

Persist, and shine.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.