“Flip sequins,” also known as reversible sequins, are a color-changing fabric that’s been everywhere of late, courting the gaze of the glitz-prone tween shopper. At Justice, one can buy a flip-sequin pillow, emblazoned with dual-toned GIRL POWER text. At Sears, a shirt with a smiling Elsa reveals a flip-sequin Anna when brushed.
Enter any elementary school today and there you’ll find dozens of glittering kids, smoothing the grain of their flip-sequin shirts. The fabric merges the pleasure of touch with the unrestrained glamour of childhood taste and the rapid innovation of an Alibaba world. In the United States, the search term picked up steam in late 2016, increasing 100 percent between Christmas 2016 and 2017.
“I think it’s lovely,” says Livia Labate, parent of a 5-and-a-half-year-old daughter. “Marketers focus, to an excess, on how kids respond positively to contrast and vibrant tones. However, kids are constantly touching things! These sequin fabrics give them a sensory experience beyond color. It is unsurprising to me that they find it delightful.”
Sequins have always been a site of innovation. The very first sequins were coins, sewn into clothes for safekeeping. (The word “sequin” comes from the Arabic word “sikka,” meaning coin.)
Up through the early 1900s, sequined clothing was heavy and expensive, made from flattened discs of real metal. The true democratization of glitz would not begin until the early 1920s, when European designers began to experiment with electroplated gelatin embellishments. (These first Jell-O sequins often melted under spotlights.)
The materials processing revolution of the mid-century led to an age of more durable sequins. By the ’30s, the Eastman Kodak company was producing sequins using the same acetate it used to make its photographic film. Twenty years later, the invention of Mylar would lead to the first machine-washable sequin. Today’s sequins are made from vinyl plastic, which may or may not be recyclable. These newer sequins are lighter and cheaper, useful for evening wear or every day.
The first description of flip sequins appeared a 2011 Chinese patent for a “moveable sequin embroidery composite structure.” The application described a means of threading sequins in a reversible, overlapping arrangement: “User can randomly stir the sequins according to the likes and dislikes of the user to form different patterns by the sequin groups, so that clothes are bright, changeful, fashionable, and attractive.”
It took about five years for the bright, changeful fabric to find the right audience in the United States. Today, major tween retailers like Justice, Claire’s, and the Children’s Place all have special flip-sequin sections of their websites. There is seemingly no limit to the fabric’s application. One can recline on a flip-sequin pillow while wearing a pair of flip-sequin pajamas and lounging around with a flip-sequin throw.
“We’ve been selling products with flip sequins for two years now,” says Emily Reichert, senior marketing strategy specialist for Justice. “Our girls love that they are super sparkly, come in their favorite themes and characters, and are very tactile. Fun to play with!”
“My daughter has sensory issues, so we love them,” says Heather Savatta, parent of a 4-year-old. “They are cute and fun and keep her busy. She is so obsessed with this shirt that I had to try and find more!”
Flip-sequin products are available online, but their true allure can only be felt by smoothing the two-faced scales for yourself. (For those who can’t make it out to literally any store, there are thousands of flip-sequin videos on YouTube.) The pleasure of touching a flip-sequin product is the pleasure of restoring chaos without effort; even the most disjointed image can quickly return to its orderly form with just a gentle brush of the hand. Like brushing a suede sofa cushion, only better, flip sequins offer a glamorous distraction.
“I think the novelty wears off after the first day of wearing it,” says Philip Shemella, parent of a 7-year-old daughter. “Then the scales are mostly randomly oriented.”
Like other trends of recent years — fidget spinners, hoverboards — the flip-sequin trend will soon fizzle out, giving way to some new iteration of plastic. Already, it seems, the fad is declining.
“It’s not as much this year as last year,” says Josh Herren, a third-grade teacher at a “smallish progressive private school” in Pennsylvania. “It’s certainly not as big as fidget spinners, or flossing, or slime.”
Adults who find themselves behind the times should consider investing in a flip-sequin portrait, a product now widely available on Etsy. As mediums go, the bidirectional grain is perfect for expressing the duality of man.