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You know New Year’s Eve is approaching when fast-fashion retailers, fancy boutiques, and department stores alike break out the sparkle.
This year in particular, sequins are everywhere, and on everything from wide-leg pants to blazers, earrings, boots, purses, and, most ubiquitously, dresses. Walking down Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, there’s not a window that doesn’t look like a disco ball.
But have you ever actually worn a sequin dress? Those who have deserve some special recognition, because this is not a comfortable garment. I remember getting actual cuts across my chest and arms from the sequins on one of my dance costumes as a kid, and the last time I tried in my adult life — I was borrowing a short-sleeve shift from a friend for a party — I took it off before I left the house. I could feel every scratchy sequin through the lining of the dress, not to mention the risk of those sharp edges that I knew would be rubbing against my neck, arms, and thighs all night. Nothing is worth being that itchy.
While I’ll be sticking to a safer holiday fabric this year, if you want to look like a member of the Supremes for New Year’s Eve, I’ve got your back. I tried on every sequin dress I could find at four of the biggest fast fashion retailers in the city, to figure out which one (if any!) is the least itchy.
Zara’s in-store sequin options weren’t as robust as the website would have you believe — this cute blue and black dress ($69.90) was nowhere to be found at the three locations I checked — but I was able to find a few others.
There was a shift dress with large sequins ($59.90) on the front side only, which meant it’s less itchy than normal on bare arms when they rub your dress (for some reason, the smaller ones are more irritating).
Then there was a tank dress with a low back ($49.90) that had a chiffon ruffle around the edges, saving your armpits from sharp sequin seams. The body was unlined, meaning slight itch (though not as bad as you’d think) and the fit is boxy, so definitely size down — I tried on my typical size and it was falling off my shoulders. The most comfortable sequined option in store was actually a long crochet skirt ($99.90) embroidered with sequins that hid a secret pair of leggings underneath.
Itch Factor: Tolerable
The Swedish chain has a few sequin pieces at the moment (including a pretty cute pair of wide-leg pants, which, I will warn you, do not pass the non-itchy test). The dresses, though, were a win: I’m happy to report that neither was in any way itchy, thanks to a very thick satin lining that almost becomes a piping at the edges (so no sharp sleeves).
But the fits were super weird, so I would advise against buying online. I tried on both in my normal size; the ruby dress ($125) was so small I had to struggle to get it over my butt and hips while the open-back silver sequin dress ($145) was so big and baggy in the sleeves that it looked about three sizes two big — but no zipper means you can’t size down.
If you’re comfortable with an oversized look, this might be the non-itchy sequin dress of your dreams. The brand also makes a sequin wrap dress ($145) that wasn’t in stock at the location I went to, but I’m willing to bet it has the same thick satin lining.
Itch Factor: Minimal
If you want options, head to H&M — but be warned that the comfort level ranges wildly within the current choices. Most dresses are super stretchy, which translates to fitted and flattering once on your body, thanks to all that shine. There was a mesh dress embroidered with sequins ($79.99) that made me feel like a sexy figure skater (in a good way) but scraped my leg and butt so bad while I was pulling it on and off that it hurt for hours afterwards and left a visible scratch mark.
There was also a blindingly sparkly, long-sleeved, very short, and super shiny dress that seemed like something Beyoncé would wear on stage; it was still a tiny bit itchy even through the lining, but this is the dress I would buy were I actually trying to buy a sparkly dress — it looked great on, and long sleeves are a must for me.
Trying on so many dresses at H&M, I learned that long sleeves are key. While all the sleeveless options at H&M were relatively okay-feeling in the body — including a cute midi-length ombre dress ($69.99) and a pink V-neck dress with a slit ($69.99) — the armpit area was super itchy and sharp, not to mention my poor naked arm being attacked by all the sequins attached to the rest of my body. (Don’t go for the low-back long-sleeved sequin dress, $69.90, which was very uncomfortable around the neck and the edges of the sleeves.)
Itch Factor: Ranges from pretty okay to actually dangerous, depending on the dress
Topshop has a bunch of sequin dresses on sale at the moment, but none of them are worth suffering through, even for the low prices. The lined options — including a crazy leopard number (now $75), a camo tank dress ($125), and a dress with shoulder cut-outs ($130) — still had sequins sewn around to the underside of the cuffs and neck; this one-shoulder dress (now $90) was particularly awful.
A high-neck maxi dress ($280) was better on the edges, but the body itself was still pretty scratchy, which, for the price, ain’t going to work.
Any other options had sequins embroidered into mesh — like this star dress ($240) — which looked really cool, but means a good portion of the dress is unlined (read: super itchy!). The store did, however, have a few cute non-sequin sparkly dresses, should you want the sparkle without the pain.
Itchiness factor: Unbearable all around