Metallic fabrics have been popular in fashion for centuries all around the globe. As early as the 12th century, textile artisans created metallic effects with real metals; gold, for instance, could be beaten extremely thin, cut into tiny strips, and wrapped around a core of cotton or silk. This yarn could then be woven into lamé fabric. Because of the cost and workmanship required, gold and silver garments were the ultimate expression of luxury, power, and wealth.
Twentieth-century technology helped make metallic fabrics much easier and less expensive to produce. Lurex was invented in 1946. It is a yarn made from a thin strip of aluminum sandwiched between two plastic films. Lurex is lighter weight than lamé, does not tarnish, and is strong enough to be used in power looms to make complex woven fabrics, making new metallic fabrics possible. This dress by French couturier Jacques Griffe features an early Lurex fabric woven into matelassé, a textile with twisted crepe yarns that pucker to create raised, quilted effects.
Check out this and other fabric technologies in Fashion in Fabric, on view at the Museum of FIT.