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What are Paillettes?

By Del Sandeen
Updated May 21, 2024
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Paillettes are a decorative accessory used to embellish clothing, footwear, or accessories. They are usually oval or round in shape with a flat surface. They're often shiny or have a sheen, and can resemble small metal discs.

These decorative embellishments are sometimes confused with sequins, but they are more closely related to spangles. Unlike sequins, which consist of a hole in the center for attachment, paillettes have a hole near the top. This allows a tailor or seamstress to attach the paillette so that it dangles. Sequins, once attached to clothing, are fixed; paillettes dangle, so they can be attractive for anyone who wants them to twirl as she spins or dances.

Paillettes can be added to clothing in small amounts, for a subtle decorative touch, or they can be applied all over. Their shiny qualities are best suited to evening wear or formal wear. A dress with allover spangles will likely be too dressy for a casual day outfit; it's better to save such an embellished dress for a night out on the town. These embellishments are delicate and any clothing or accessories decorated with them will require gentle care. It may be necessary to take clothing to a dry cleaner or to hand wash and air dry these decorated garments.

A shirt or sweater that features just a few paillettes, or is decorated with a paillette trim, is suitable for day, but this top will still be dressier than a plain shirt. They can be attached at the hemline or around the neckline. They can also be attached to footwear, either in minimal amounts, such as at the toe, or all over for an instant dressy pair of shoes. They are simple to attach, so a skilled seamstress is not necessary if someone wants to add them to her clothes or accessories. All that is required is a sewing needle and complementary thread.

These accessories are available in a wide variety of colors. A more subtle ensemble may feature black paillettes on a black sweater, but for high contrast and a more dramatic look, silver paillettes might be placed on a black background.

Paillettes are also used in jewelry making, particularly in earrings. They work well for dangling earrings and can be easily added to hoops. If they're strung vertically, they make a suitable pair of chandelier earrings. They're also used for bracelets. Paillettes are lightweight, so they're usually comfortable as earrings or as a wrist accessory.

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Discussion Comments
By anon222492 — On Oct 15, 2011

I would have liked a history of Paillettes: When, where, how they came into use in clothing and shoes.

By Perdido — On Sep 19, 2011

I got a super shiny purse for my birthday. It is covered in purple and gold paillettes, and boy, does it sparkle!

Since it doesn’t have enough zippered compartments to hold all that I like to bring with me, I only use it on days when I wear purple or gold outfits. I think that the paillettes bring out the color in my clothes and enhance my whole appearance.

I don’t know if I would wear clothes that had paillettes attached, but it’s nice to have an accessory covered in them. I like shiny objects, but only if I can put them down for awhile. I can only handle their brilliance in small doses.

By StarJo — On Sep 18, 2011

My aunt has flashy taste in clothing, and she loves paillettes. I think her favorite garment is a short sleeveless dress totally covered in large paillettes.

She likes to wear it when she goes dancing. She says that the colored lights in the club make her sparkle like a disco ball. I have seen her dancing in this dress, and when the lights hit the disco ball hanging from the ceiling, she really does look like an extension of it.

I call it her mermaid dress. The paillettes are a light sea-green color, and they remind me of fish scales.

By OeKc05 — On Sep 18, 2011

I have some gray suede boots that resemble moccasins. My cousin sewed paillettes onto the top of them, so they dangle down like fringe.

These boots only come to maybe three inches above my ankle. I often wear leggings or skinny jeans tucked into them so that everyone can see the paillettes. I have received many compliments on them.

I love how this one small change has made my boots unique. The color of the paillettes is only slightly lighter than the color of the boots, so I don’t have any issues when trying to match an outfit to them.

By orangey03 — On Sep 17, 2011

I have an orange sweater with light orange paillettes attached to the neckline. I wear it in the fall when I go out on dinner dates or to the movies. I have even worn it to church with a brown skirt.

The paillettes are very shiny and somewhat iridescent. This sweater has a wide scoop neckline, so there was plenty of room for the paillettes to be sewn onto it.

The sweater came with a few extra paillettes in a little plastic bag in case any of them broke. This is good, because I imagine it would be hard to find them in this exact shade in a store.

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