Everyone looks terrible on the red carpet. Why?
The politics of red carpet dressing have changed a lot in recent years. The #MeToo era has sparked a backlash against too much sartorial analysis: “Don’t ask about the clothes” has become a mantra among those with more power. And we plebeians were told to focus on the art being promoted instead of asking about the hours spent embroidering sequins on their dresses.
We were rejected because we were reserved. Social media demanded #questionhermore. It’s like poor subjugated actors blowing up landmines or inventing Nobel Prize theorems for a living instead of dressing up in silly wigs and pretending to be someone else. Interestingly, few told the brand deals that paid them millions of dollars for their ambassador endorsement. But then, all’s fair in love and ball gowns: who said emancipation had to play by any rules?
Covid ushered in a further period of cheeky self-reflection, where the awards were duly marked and there were many visitors, but the actors followed the funeral code. Everyone wore black or muted colors and accessorized with a regatta’s worth of ribbons and thought-provoking pins. Personally, I thought this was the golden age of red carpet dressing, as the understated sophistication won the awards. Just as the Queen’s death last year prompted a period of mourning among the TV presenters, for a heart-stopping moment, everyone looked ultra-chic.
One can only marvel at the change in temperament this season, in which the red carpet exploded with some of the craziest looks I’ve ever seen. They wear the strangest, ugliest clothes in a move away from sober, thoughtful, intellectual dressing. Brutal colors, acid palettes, cage details, cutouts, frills, capes and flesh. Each person makes 20 statements. Everything looks slightly bat-like.
Clicking through pictures from last weekend’s Baftas marked a new low in hideous outfits. Even the Princess of Wales, the poster girl for flashy classicism, started rocking even more subversive looks. She attended the Baftas as her royal patron in a white, off-the-shoulder “Elsa from Frozen” kind of dress. She then topped it off with quirky but spicy extras – big earrings from Zara and, more shockingly, long black opera gloves.
Of course, there’s room for experimentation and eccentricity when it comes to celebrity style. We all love a Cher glistening like a golden goddess in Bob Mackie, or (a personal favorite) Bjork dressed as an egg-laying swan. Musicians have always tended to be more outrageous, as their brand is built on personality. Actors, on the other hand, are more elusive: their name is their mystique. But instead of silencing their wardrobe debate, this season is less #ask more than scream #lookatme.
The broadening of the wardrobe is certainly a result of today’s media consumption. The audience watching the red carpet is becoming larger than the audience tuning in to the actual ceremonies. Engagement has shifted to TikTok and other meme-centric spheres. Global events are now reduced to tiny viral moments, and classic old-world glamor can’t compete with rooster legs, nipple tassels, wacky harlequins and Unitarians.
Some may blame the stylists and brand deals that currently dominate the industry. Once upon a time, Sharon Stone could wear a Gap t-shirt and blazer to the Oscars and look her beautiful, authentic self. Now celebrities are surrounded by an army of stylists and consultants who manage every look. Designer Julie de Libran was responsible for dressing celebrities at Prada and then at Louis Vuitton early in her career. In those days, he says, dressing someone was a more organic process—actors often had a personal relationship with the designer, and very few were paid back then. Today, red carpet dressing has become a billion-dollar business, with dresses and jewelry always paired with huge contract deals. Actors have become mannequins for competing interests, a sandwich board for brands.
But that’s not the only explanation for “the lack of style or taste on the red carpet,” as Elizabeth Saltzman explains. The former Vanity Fair fashion director and stylist dresses Gwyneth Paltrow, Saoirse Ronan and Jodie Comer, and blames the lack of clothes and the ever-burgeoning influencer culture. Where once the red carpet tour consisted of only a few dozen key moments, events have mushroomed in recent years: movie premieres now require months-long, multi-city, global screenings, and award-giving community marathons require dozens of different appearances from the actor. . . If you add to this the need for an exclusive look, the range of clothes is limited. “There are shockingly few clothes,” insists Saltzman, “especially if you don’t want to have something custom made.” Custom design can be a good solution, but it goes against the current trends. Saltzman says, “Custom manufacturing does not support the environment or the brand.”
As such, Saltzman conjures up a hilarious picture of actors forced to rummage through the trash. Between the non-original attire or the horror of nudity, one imagines being forced into the only Fraggle costume. Maybe in the future we’ll see more actors like Cate Blanchett, who updated an old Margiela dress for the Baftas by adding some special Louis Vuitton pearls. The Princess of Wales is also to be commended for at least trying to recycle something she’s worn before.
And there’s one more solution—one that can solve two problems at once. Instead of dressing up as a muppet why not sign an exclusive contract with the jim henson workshop and wear the real thing?
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