The recent Tatler Ball ushered in the holiday party season with stellar looks in metallics, from the Lesley Mobo gold gown worn by Emmeline Villar of Project Inclusion Network, the charity ball’s beneficiary, to the Mark Bumgarner silver creation worn by Pia Wurtzbach.
Pia also went shiny at this year’s Cannes film festival in another Bumgarner piece in red, which was right on trend as other metallic gowns sparkled on the red carpet, from Elle Fanning’s fringed piece by Paco Rabanne to Kai Gerber’s slinky Celine column worn with a fur bolero.
Gold and silver have been prized since ancient times as decoration in the clothing and textiles of kings, leaders, and people of status. The cloth of gold woven from gold threads was popular for ecclesiastical use for many centuries. It was produced in Byzantine looms from the 7th to 9th centuries, and after that in Sicily, Cyprus, Lucca, and Venice.
Its weaving also flourished during the time of Genghis Khan, when art and trade prospered in the 12th century under Mongol rule in China and the Middle East. Under Henry VIII of England, it was reserved for royalty and higher levels of nobility. From the 1460s the Waterford cloth of gold vestments was made in Florence, where there was also a similar one in silver.
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In the modern age, metallics in fashion were introduced in the 1930s in Hollywood. The era was marked by the Wall Street Crash of 1929, which led to the Great Depression when the lack of money was reflected in everyday fashion, as seen in films like Bonnie and Clyde and It Happened One Night. Hollywood, however, was another world away from the gritty reality of the average American, as the rich and famous lived it up and opted for glitz in fashion worn in musicals that offered escape from everyday woes: Ginger Rogers sashayed across the screen in sparkling dresses and Jean Harlow was smothered in shiny, figure-hugging pieces.
Metallics later entered the fashion realm outside the silver screen when haute couture designers created pieces to distinguish evening wear from daywear, having that element of the stars—very Hollywood but also with reference to the celestial bodies in the night sky, evoking mystery, destiny, and beauty. Metallic fashion came to be known as rare, unusual, and extraordinary.
From these beginnings, shine would emerge periodically during times of reinvention and progress. In the 1960s, Paco Rabanne’s futuristic muses like Twiggy and Brigitte Bardot wore his metal disc-linked minis while in the 1970s, metallics symbolized the counterculture of the previous decade as the stars of the hit TV series Charlie’s Angels fought crime in silvery pinks, reds, and blues.
Abba’s hit song Dancing Queen made glittery disco outfits and accessories popular. Lurex, a weave of cotton and fabric yarns invented in 1946 as an alternative to satin for costumes, was in demand again as dresses and bell bottoms after the film Saturday Night Fever became a hit in 1977.
We have also reached a point in our civilization where we have more confidence so that we don’t need it as total armor but just as a talisman, perhaps—a secret weapon to complete a killer look and even bring good fortune.
In the aughts, metallics reappeared when the dot-com bubble reached its peak in 2000, mirroring the role of technology in the emerging digital culture. During this time, tech dominated the Nasdaq index and young girls played Neopets on glossy pink iMac G3s.
With the pandemic shifting our lives online, it’s no surprise that metallics are at the fore again as we have all become technophiles where Alexa and Siri have become trusted companions, chatbots have become the representatives to answer our questions every time we dial a number or log on to a company website, and AI is all the rage, indispensable for perfecting our images on Instagram.
The symbiosis with technology, however, is a totally new meeting of the body and metal because the psychological conditions are different, according to Isabel Millar, author of Blonde: Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Bombshell and the Psychoanalysis of Artificial Intelligence: “Femininity has always been associated with the future, or at least the perfectibility of the future. Now we also aspire to — and fetishize — algorithmic desire, the way our needs and wants are administered and captured by techno capitalism so that our ideas of beauty and our fashion choices are influenced by the urge to become more than human, indestructible, immortal. Fashion is responding to this fantasy.”
The way we use metallics now, however, is certainly different from the past decades, as seen on the runways. It’s a less total sci-fi look as they are paired with nerdy basics so that they have a whiff of the futuristic but are still grounded in everyday life—golds, silvers and radiant pastels mix with simple cotton tops and skirts, geeky eyewear, jeans, cozy knits, and sneakers.
Miu Miu has insinuated them into preppy looks with a casualness exemplified by Emma Corrin wearing gold chain-link micro shorts with a turtle neck. At Valentino, metallic Rokh mules and a silver briefcase made the Barbie-pink outfit less girly and more authoritative, just as Giambattista Valli balanced the sparkling platforms and granny pearls with army pants.
The metallic has been an obsession of ours for millennia because of its impenetrability that serves as counterpoint and protection for our perishable flesh, but we have also reached a point in our civilization where we have more confidence so that we don’t need it as total armor but just as a talisman, perhaps—a secret weapon to complete a killer look and even bring good fortune.
It certainly worked well for Emmeline Villar—Tatler raised over P16 million for Project Inclusion Network, surpassing the target of P11 million—to provide disabled individuals with technical and vocational education as well as job placement assistance so that they can have a better chance at realizing their full potential and serve their communities.