Thursday, 18 September 2014

Insescts in Fashion: Would You Wear A Beetle Dress?

Insects are the future. 

Sooner, rather than later, insects will become an integral part of our daily lives. In some regions of the world, particularly in south-east Asia, insects have always been part of the menu, and eating spiders or insects like wasps, ants, locusts and grasshoppers are common. And if you think about it, insects are by far, a more sustainable food source than things like beef, chicken, fish, etc...

Today however, I want to highlight something that I find really interesting and aesthetically beautiful: insects in fashion. 

Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth.jpg
Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth
image via Wikipedia

It's not a new idea by any stretch, as seen in the painting by John Singer Sargent (1889) entitled Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth. The painting depicts the actress performing William Shakespeare's, Macbeth, wearing a green costume dress that was decorated with iridescent beetle wings. Sounds wild, but beetle wing textile goes back far before the 1800's. For example in the 16th century during the Mughal era, beetle wings were treated like jewels and were integrated into sashes, scarves, turbans, and other costume accessories. 

Madecassia rotschildi
image via Wikipedia 
Temognatha alternata,
image via Wikipedia 
But the term beetle 'wing' is incorrect. In textile fashion, it's not the wings (which are thin, transparent and very fragile) that are harvested. Instead, it's usually the hard and often iridescent elytra that is used. The elytra is the hard covering that protects and covers the insect's wings when they are not in use. Most of the time, beetles in the family Buprestidae, commonly called the "metallic wood-boring beetle" or "Jewel beetle" are used. It's one of the largest families in the insect world and boasts some 15,000 species known in about 450 genera.

Eurythyrea austriaca
image via wikipedia 

Recently, the use of beetle elytra to decorate clothing has resurfaced with the spotlight on this green gown seen HERE and HERE. The results are spectacular to say the least and if I had the money or the skill I'd love to incorporate beetle elytra into my wardrobe.

What about you? Would you wear a beetle dress or a beetle adorned accessory? Maybe earrings or a necklace?


  1. Not for me. Interesting though.

  2. Colorful, but think I'll pass on wearing beetles.

  3. Yippeee, instant lunch for the cat, he's all for that. But Pat would never wear bugs, blah lol

  4. I'm with you on this 100% I think those iridescent insects are beautiful.

  5. Yeah L.G.! I was starting to think I was the only one who would be excited to wear beetle parts. :D

  6. Hi Elise ... it is amazing how much time and energy was spent creating such incredible clothes ... I don't think I'd wear a beetle dress - I'd have to save for years!!

    The article on insects you sent us too - looks amazing and I'm sure I'd enjoy the read - while the dress links ... when I wrote about protecting the fabrics in the National Trust houses they mentioned sending cloth(s) away to be repaired/restored ... and the lady who did the work is here: - her front page has the restoration work she did on the Beetle Dress for the V&A Museum ... I found Zenzie's work quite extraordinary ... I hope you enjoy ...

    Cheers Hilary

    1. Oh wow! Thanks for the link, I didn't know the V&A had a beetle dress! It must be relatively recent because I didn't see it years ago when I visited. I'll check out the link. :)

  7. Eating or wearing insect parts doesn't appeal to me. . .but for a museum piece or an elaborate theatre piece, I have no problem. And my daughter said she tried some type of insect food presented in Mexico when she visited there (of course it was chopped, sauced and disguised), but still. . . the gown that the actress wore looks appropriately very medieval. Sargent liked the theatre and painted women very well.

  8. LOL. They're beautiful but I don't think I could bring myself to wear them. Beetles are especially creepy. And lets not even think about eating them.

  9. No, I probably wouldn't. I don't like bugs much, though I know they have an integral part in the world. The beetles don't die for the dresses do they? I wouldn't want animals (even insects) to die just for fashion. Though I guess people used to kill and skin animals all the time, using the meat for food and the skin for clothes. I guess if they eat the beetle while using it's thingies for clothing....Blech, no, I still can't do it.

  10. I'm also going to pass. They look itchy in the slide show. Ever wonder why butterflies don't gross us out, but all the other bugs do?

  11. Yes! Absolutely, why not! Those accents are beautiful. I don't want to be responsible for removing said winged pieces, but beetles don't bother me at all. Only things with too many legs and stinging things that chase people. (They know who they are!) And I'd eat one, too. At least once. ^_^ As long as it's dead and disinfected.

  12. Good thing I'm not much into fashions, because I don't think a a beetle dress is for me. It kind of creeps me out to think of wearing pieces of a dead insect!

  13. Very cool. If the dress was cool, then yes. I would totally wear a necklace. Earrings are doubtful.

  14. Um, while I admire the creativity of these nineteenth century fashion designers, I think I would pass on wearing beetles today.

  15. I wouldn't, but I bet you would. ;)

  16. Stunning art!
    When it comes to color, I'm quite adventurous...but not sure if I'd wear a beetle...

  17. Yeah.... no, no I don't think I could.


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