Kittens, it’s that blessed time of year again: when we argue vociferously in the comments over the gowns and getups of the Oscars red carpet! Praise be!
I have opined in recent years that some Academy Awards red carpets have gotten…well, boring. But scanning through the images as they rolled in over the past couple of days, I was actively bouncing in my seat with delight to see some genuinely interesting and groundbreaking fashion on the step and repeat. Old school glamour absolutely has a place and shouldn’t be discounted, but I think the current zeitgeist (and certainly my own preference) is for more originality and personality in both design and styling.
This year had it in droves, particularly in the menswear category, which my soul thrilled to see. Nothing is hotter than a well worn tux or suit, but what a dull life it is when no one revisits or reinterprets the traditional stand by. Meanwhile, the ladies played with shape, flirted with menswear, and broke out the jewels. What a feast for the senses!
The red carpet and many (not all) of the awards also served to underscore how much style owes to the niches. Black culture, queer culture, nerd culture…aesthetics and innovation come from tucked away corners of society, and seldom from the mainstream. To see Style expressed rather than Fashion rewarded (not the same thing) was deeply gratifying. In fact, given the diversity of style to choose from and the myriad of important cultural news, it was difficult to break down what looked “good” and bad” for a lot of the people I wanted to cover.
Difficult…but not impossible.
Scroll down for my top picks, headshakes, screams of terror, and bafflement. Then let me know what you loved/hated and why!
Glenn Close in Carolina Herrera
Bow down to a woman who is LONG overdue an Oscar (even though I’m delighted that Olivia Colman won because I think The Favourite is one of the best films I’ve seen in years and her surprise and joy at her nod and win were so lovely to watch). Apparently her train weighed close to 50 lbs and while that seems a chore to drag around, she looked every inch a queen. And watching her stanning for another queen? *Chef’s kiss*
Regina King in Oscar de la Renta
Such a simple look, such perfect styling. Every single quotient here is correct: chic, sex appeal, elegance, impact. A mere centimeter more or leg or jewelry would have changed the mathematics, but left alone this whole look just sings. I may also be biased but I also give accessorizing points for when Captain America (himself fetchingly attired in a blue velvet jacket–we’ll return to the boys later) rose chivalrously to the occasion to help her up the stairs.
Angela Bassett in Reem Acra
The Queen Mother of Wakanda accepts your humble offerings of praise. I would normally grade the wrinkling much more harshly but I mean…just look at her. Her face should not be legal.
Constance Wu in Versace
This is so darn lovely in its execution! This is a look where all of the impact is in the details from the perfectly fitted and hemmed basics (required for the red carpet but sometimes missing in action for some reason!), the hint of glimmer at the neckline, and the absolutely stunning pleating across the bodice.
Gemma Chan in Valentino
I can already hear the shouts in the comments, but hear me out! It was difficult to see all the wild and editorial deployment of pink and not think of the character of Villanelle from Killing Eve and her famous pink confection by Molly Goddard. That piece in particular and most of the costuming of that show was dubbed an exercise “dressing for the female gaze rather than the male,” a take with which I agree and which I think we are seeing more and more of. Gemma Chan’s red carpet choices have been a great example of this and her pink frock was no different. Here is a ludicrously beautiful woman who could easily dress “safely” in her professional appearances, but has chosen deliberately editorial choices instead, playing with silhouettes and shape rather than traditional movie star gowns. This is not a traditional or safe choice, which is why I think it deserves a top billing.
Tina Fey in Vera Wang
A personal best, hands down.
Michelle Yeoh in Elie Saab
If ever there was a woman born to wear couture, it is she!
The Less Than Good
I am devastated to report that all three of the leading ladies of The Favourite (by far my favo(u)rite film of the year), let me down on the style front.
Olivia Colman in custom Prada
I am not going to judge this woman nearly as harshly as other stars. Like many noted and treasured British performers, she is not a Hollywood machine product and has not “invested” in fashion as a mechanism for attention or acclaim the way, say, Emma Stone has. That is not a criticism, by the way, it’s usually stonking good business sense! But it not correct to judge her by fashionista standards. And no, it has nothing to do with age. Both Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep are Women of A Certain Age, both are ferociously revered and fabulously talented. Streep has not utilized fashion the way that Mirren has and their efforts must be evaluated differently. But I digress. I think the color of this gown is gorgeous, her hair and makeup are impeccable and personal, and I love the beautifully embroidered tulle in theory, but I didn’t love the placement of it. Had this been draped differently, I think I would have liked it much more. Her acceptance speech, however? Genuine delight!
Emma Stone in Louis Vuitton
This pains me because I love both her movie and her, but this looked like pan fried meat. However, her unabashed love for her winning co-star was an absolutely joy to watch, click the link above if you want to revisit it again and bask in the heartwarming glow.
Rachel Weisz in Givenchy
This pains me even more than Emma because I don’t just love her, she’s literally one of my favorite actresses ever…but this is just bad. The hair jewelry is beautiful but does not suit the rest of the look, which I can only read as cardinal fetishwear. And that is a BAD mental image right now. Again, a mixture of elements which, on their own are interesting, but don’t gel together well for me.
Lady Gaga in Alexander McQueen
I am sorry to disappoint on her big night but Lady Gaga for me was a case of so many individually good elements not being put together correctly. A structural gown with unexpected accessories is right in her wheelhouse, but the fabric didn’t seem to photograph well and had a wrinkled or unkempt quality in the shots I saw. And while her hair styling was an homage to Audrey Hepburn, whose iconic gems adorned her neck, the hair color and fake tan orange of her skin brought the look down. I am not a snob by any stretch of the imagination when it comes to style, but her particular mix of High/Low didn’t gel for me on her biggest red carpet night to date.
Charlize Theron in Dior
Sigh. I think it’s annual tradition at this point: Theron wears a Dior which I hate. She has a longstanding relationship with the house and is one of their brand ambassadors, but I have never felt they’ve done right by her. I feel the same way about Jennifer Lawrence, come to think about it… That necklace, however, is to die for.
Melissa McCarthy in Brandon Maxwell
Oh this pains me because I applaud trousers on the red carpet and live for a cape. But I did not feel that this iteration was an amazing deployment.
The Trends: Subverting Gender and Stereotypes
Pink was everywhere on this carpet which was a bit unexpected. We haven’t been having a pink “moment” in fashion, but on reflection we are having a series of decidedly female and queer empowerment moments in culture. Perhaps this constitutes something of a bold reclamation of unabashed femininity after a few rough awards seasons shadowed by #MeToo and other hard truths. No longer trying to make it in a “man’s world,” some of the most empowering messages we are hearing about and for women involve harnessing femininity (if you are feminine or choose to present that way) rather than subsuming it to more traditional (masculine) styles or perspectives. In other words, some girls like pink and they are going to wear it because they enjoy feeling girly, regardless of their age. Deal with it. And give them their awards.
Women in Menswear
In a similar vein, some girls want to wear suits. Cool! Wear the suits, darlings, you look fab in them! I love menswear on women and enjoyed how many iterations of it we saw this year, even if I didn’t love all of them equally (sorry again, Melissa!).
Let’s Hear it For the Boys (in Velvet)
And finally, boys just want to have fun too! Fashion and style are often dismissed as feminine (and therefore frivolous) interests. Bullshit! Style and self expression through clothes is fun to do and plenty of men enjoy this space. We should vigorously encourage them wherever we find men dressing well, because the results…damn.
Oh, and there was a lot of velvet too. But, priorities.
Chris Evans in Salvatore Ferragamo
There are many Chris-es in Hollywood. He is my favorite. I may have rewatched the footage of Captain America being an officer and a gentleman towards Ms. Regina King a few dozen times at this point. Because…damn.
Chadwick Boseman in Givenchy
He has consistently pushed red carpet styling for men so of course he wouldn’t leave us bereft at the Oscars. A highly traditional tux jacket is elevated by being absolutely encrusted with beading and flowing elements reminiscent of north African garments. He and the whole cast of Black Panther have been giving us the most gorgeous, high fashion, Afrofuturistic looks possible for a year now and the red carpet is all the better for it. Spare us safe, give us damn style!
Nicholas Hoult in Dior
Hot damn. The best of all the stars from The Favourite in an unusual take on the tux–almost feminine in the interpretation of a train, which is apropos given he played a glorious fop.
Jason Momoa in Karl Lagerfeld
He’s…look, he’s messy. But this look overlaps nicely with the pink theme and the more “flamboyant” looks for men, so it had to be included as a notable mention. Even if it’s really messy. But still, those muscles. Damn.
David Olelowo in Etro
Stephen James in Etro
Henry Golding in Ralph Lauren
Best In Show
Billy Porter in Christian Sirano
My god what a stunning look and absolutely perfect for the wearer, star of POSE. The look directly references drag ball star Hector Xtravaganza, updated for both 2019 and the wearer. Christian Sirano was an excellent choice as designer as having earned a reputation for dressing bodies that the more traditionally minded fashion and film industries have not cultivated. This for me summed up the best of the red carpet and the award wins this year–unfortunately leaving the Best Picture win aside. What was once underground and transgressive can still be unique and deeply unconventional while being more accepted in the mainstream as glamourous in its own right. Queer culture demands that both truths can apply and I love it!
Come, kittens, let’s argue!