Beaded Glory

The decadence of sewn jewels on garments has made it’s mark in fashion. It was a trend that started with Queen Elizabeth with her pearled gowns and over time it became a symbol of wealth of women to wear their wealth because it’s clothing, an outfit wouldn’t be worn for several years they’d get new dresses with new designs, which means sewing more jewels in different places. The trend followed through many eras and appears on runway shows today, but what’s interesting about this trend is it isn’t consistent. It appears in one era and it disappears for a while and reappears again, being most prominent in the Elizabethan/Baroque, Rococo and Georgian era then disappears to a more practical form of a brooch to be reused on several outfits from the Victorian era and throughout the 20th century. Now it’s modern interpretation is reappearing now through designers like Balmain, Gucci and Dolce and Gabbana.

Portrait of Elizabeth I at the National Portrait Gallery of London, Unknown artist, 1580s-1590s.
Portrait of Anna Dalkeith, Countess of Morton, and Lady Anna Kirk by Van Dyck 1631.

Notice in the Elizabethan/Baroque era how the jewels sewn were one or two layers of gold string, pearls and a mix of precious jewels like sapphire, emerald and rubies. All pieces in few stones but in heavier, larger pieces to be apparent from a far distance.

“Comtesse d’Egmont Pignatelli in Spanish Costume” by Alexander Roslin, 1763

The Rococo era expressed women’s femininity, behind all the bright pastels, ruffles, bows, lace and silks, jewels aren’t huge and have been replaced with rows of pearls. However, if all stones are no longer present, nothing replaces the timelessness of a ¬†diamond, it is said that Marie Antoinette had gowns with diamonds sewn in.

“Frances Anne Vane, Marchioness of Londonderry” by Dubois-Drahonet, Alexandre-Jean, 1831

After the flamboyance of the era before, regency represents a period for women to have garments more true to their figures and high waisted empire gowns. The extravagance of beaded dresses isn’t a lost art with the aristocracy and royalty, smaller gems are sewn with rows of smaller pieces of diamonds and pearls or sewn threads of gold.

Women of the Baroque, Rococo and Regency who wore those garments all used their garments to represent the wealth of their families or empires, none of their clothing were functional or used for most of their daily lives, it served a more ornamental purpose. The few modern interpretations with subtle past references show how beaded garments have made a point of interest for the 21st century in mainly for ready to wear collections of Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci and Balmain. It’s what gives women a hint of glamour and fun in their clothing of basic garments for everyday life. Ready to wear serves as function with quality because most women are working in today’s society, moving from place to place unlike walking, leisure and remaining in one place for most days of the month. However, it’s influence will always be a stamping point on couture for example in John Galliano for Dior in his spring 2000 collection all inspired by Marie Antoinette. What all these garments have in common, is it’s use of luxurious fabrics and technique of sewing the garment but ¬†its more practical materials for affordability for the upper middle class and higher classes, none of these jewels are genuine, they are all made of crystal, plastic and metal beads, therefore if these garments were to loose their function, no one would feel guilty to clean these artful pieces from their closets. Beaded garments whether the jewels are genuine or artificial is a never ending trend that enhance a woman’s love for shinier, finer and beautiful things in life.