If the Met Gala is a signifier of the current zeitgeist – and with its reputation as ‘fashion’s prom’, it invariably is – the embellished dress trend was one of 2016’s most prominent. The theme ‘Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology’ was met with a stream of embellished dresses in varying styles: from actress Lupita Nyong'o’s mesmerising mint green sequined Calvin Klein to model Poppy Delevingne’s intricate metallic Marchesa gown finished with flapper-style layers.
What the standout pieces at the Met Gala had in common, however, was ostentation. Embellished party dresses in autumn/winter 2016 were not about gentle embroidery or subtly beaded sleeves. Instead, they pivoted around an aesthetic of all-out glitz – think top-to toe sequins and an overload of lustrous detailing.
Frivolous fashion moments
Stylish embellished dresses have symbolised old-school glamour and sensuality since Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell wore matching red sequined gowns in 1953’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Yet they have also long been a signifier of unadulterated wealth. In 2014, Cate Blanchett made history in the most expensive ensemble ever to be worn to the Academy Awards at $18.1 million. While her jewellery made up the bulk of the price tag, it was her Swarovski-laden nude Armani Privé dress, worth an estimated $100,000, which drew the media's adoration.
Even royal fashion icon Princess Diana indulged in floor-length shimmer, wearing a full-sequin Catherine Walker gown to several key events in the 1980s. As the only piece of its kind in her wardrobe, the mermaid-green glitter dress sold time and time again at auction due to its legendary status.
Whilst the aforementioned pieces are memorable in part due to their world-renowned wearers, Vetements’ AW16 foil-silver polo neck dress garnered universal fame of its own accord. In a collection – and fashion landscape – dominated by wearable everyday staples, it marked a clear revival of high-octane eveningwear.
Embellishment on the catwalk
Shimmering dresses also featured prominently in the Dolce & Gabbana AW16 fairytale-esque collection. After a show awash with princess-inspired silhouettes and medieval fabrics such as velvet and silk, the finale saw row upon row of models marching out in uniformly dazzling ensembles. Each wore a glitter dress in either peony pink or silver, capped with a prim headband.
By contrast, Dior seemed to draw on cult film The Craft, introducing embellishment in a dark colour palette, from the moody hued full-sequin gowns to the models' slashes of black lipstick. Slicked-back hair and masculine accessories brought an even tougher slant to the outfits on display.
While Erdem also introduced a predominantly black and grey colour palette, two of its AW16 dresses stood out amongst the moody hues: a silver sequin fishtail gown and a gold dress festooned in sequins and fringing.
Honing in on a more exotic aesthetic, Gucci featured oversized stylish embellished dresses in gleaming emerald greens and diluted pinks for the same season. The kimono-influenced silhouettes were finished with motifs reminiscent of Japanese art.
Ever the innovator, Alexander McQueen opted for dazzling appliqué sequins that appeared to be floating on dresses crafted from sheer fabrics. Celestial shapes were sewn onto the designs to reflect the vast beauty of the galaxy.
With powerful women embracing embellished dresses, shimmer has become a feminist symbol as much as a feminine wardrobe choice. The embellished dress trend reached a pinnacle in October 2016 when Michelle Obama wore a rose gold, floor-length gown by the Versace couture label Atelier Versace to assert her powerful stance on the world stage at her final state dinner. Ending her stint as the US First Lady with a rousing speech, she appeared as a glittering beacon of hope in America’s turbulent political landscape.
Performers with feminist leanings have also shown their confidence and strength in embellished dresses. Alt-music darling FKA Twigs performed at Coachella in 2015 wearing a KTZ oversized sequined organza smock, while Rihanna proved she deserved her 2014 Fashion Icon award from the CFDA by attending in a translucent custom Adam Selman dress scattered with Swarovski crystals. A year later, this risqué ensemble was echoed by the queen of female empowerment, Beyoncé, at the Met Gala. The seminal singer chose to wear a sheer Givenchy gown by the label's haute couture spinoff line, her modesty protected by strategically placed jewels.
With role models of this calibre opting for the embellished dress, as designers experiment with eye-catching adornments in various guises, this outlandish – and highly covetable – style will continue to capture imaginations as it grows and alters with the times.