Last night’s Oscars was, as it usually is for red carpet season, the culmination of months of careful image planning, runway-sample scheming, and signing of insurance forms for rental earrings that cost so much they require a red-carpet pass for the security guard specifically assigned to make sure the earrings are all right. Today, members of the Stylist Guild rest quietly in their intentionally-shabby loft apartments, surveying what they have done. And I’m assuming they’re all plotting revenge, because after a season of being at war with the necklace-makers, nearly all of them made a last-second deal. Necklaces everywhere! Someone will PAY. (…the invoices of the many additional jewelry security guards required.)
Given the dedication to red-carpet excellence that Lupita Nyong’o has evinced all season, I’m not sure there was ever going to be another contender for Look of the Night. However, my first glimpse of this dress was a still photo, and I thought, “It’s lovely, but is it magic?” Then she moved, and proved it was.
This is, as it happens, one of those dresses that’s meant to be seen in motion. It’s a dress you wear when your plan for the evening has one To-Do list item, and that item is, Collect My Oscar. (In case that item was out of her power, which was a possibility given that Lawrence had split the win with her throughout the season, the golden headband—the first time she’s worn any such accessory, and by far the most princessy accessorizing she’s had in a season of clean lines and minimal styling—recalls both a royal circlet and celebratory youth. If she hadn’t won tonight, that headband promised she was going to come back and collect for something else.)
Not every red-carpet dress is a message, of course: a statement, yes, by definition, but so long as you look put-together and avoid the worst-dressed list, your team has done their jobs. But for the Oscars, you usually end up sending a message just by default.
The history of fashion is one of sending messages, and this business is absolutely no different; the only difference is that now we pretend there are no messages (or are encouraged to read into clothes the singular message of My Feelings About Sex In General and Also Right Now, which the patriarchy urges us to seek, and internalize, for horrible, harmful reasons). It’s why the “What are you wearing?” question sounds so disingenuous after a while, as actress after actress swallows the Because behind it and pretends Disney birds brought it to her. Of course there’s a because! The reason we’re all there is to admire the because. For instance, the other Supporting Actress nominees:
Jennifer Lawrence, wearing “I liked being in American Hustle just fine and David O. Russell likes me, but I’m not in it to win it, because why would you bother. I did my big I’m Winning thing already and will be scaling down this year, in this 1988 Prom Barbie tie-in dress someone told me would be a good idea, and I lacked the personal investment to object to. God, I hope I don’t win.”
Sally Hawkins, wearing “I made it to the Oscars! Holy crap! Okay, Hawkins, make this count. There’s no way I’m winning, not this year, but I want to be noticed without looking like I want to win when everyone knows I won’t. Okay, okay, I got this; I want your sparkliest sequin-crusted gown, please. Anything you have, so long as it takes two people to carry it.”
June Squibb, wearing “I am an accomplished actress and am planning to be comfortable tonight, so please make my dress a green that plays up my eyes and complexion and makes a subdued but beautiful statement, and then attach my jacket to my dress, because I’m not going to adjust a damn thing on that carpet. It will all stay right where it is.”
Julia Roberts, wearing “I really enjoy not having to be a cheerful romantic interest any more. It’s honestly probably my favorite thing about aging out of ingenue, I was so sick of all that. I relished being the evil queen in the terrible Snow White movie, I loved being brittle in August Osage County. This black dress indicates someone with moral ambiguity! Please hire me to play all your morally-ambiguous schemers!”
Amy Adams, wearing “I am a respected actress who reminds many people of Old Hollywood, just as this respected dress in a respected color does, but more modern, like this strange peplum that no one realized would be right at hand height when I was posing, so it looks like I’m perpetually trying to hold it down.”
Meryl Streep, wearing “I’m Meryl Streep, I could wear literally anything I wanted, you’re lucky I deigned to show up in something so casually elegant. You’re damn welcome.”
Cate Blanchett, wearing “Yes, I’m here to collect my Oscar? Great, thanks.”
Sandra Bullock, wearing “This is an elegant, streamlined yet appropriately detailed gown in which I will not be accepting any awards. I will have to settle for being the biggest box-office earner of the year including the SF film in which I was essentially the only actor. That’s right, Hollywood, I can read. I’m going to star in everything. I will bankroll everything. This tulle inset that awkwardly floats away from my ruching detail will be the flag of the fort I’m building to which you will not be invited. Have a great evening.”
[Not pictured: Judi Dench, wearing “You seriously underestimate how hard it was to play Philomena. I’m not getting out of bed for this. Have a great time, bye.”]
Moving away from people who are under the most scrutiny, we tend to see people both having more fun and being more careful. Some of them are auditioning. Some of them are just there to be fabulous.
EVERYBODY ELSE DIVISION
Viola Davis, in a fantastic Deco silhouette, and handling the nearly-impossible feat of an unwrinkled satin dress; the color is perfect even though the seaming looks, through no fault of hers, overworked. (Shiny satin is the curse of formalwear.)
Gabourey Sidibe, looking marvelous. Great color, great texture, love the neckline, dig the train.
Glenn Close, in Goth formal armor, which is a look I will never get tired of. Every red carpet needs some Goth armor.
Charlize Theron, who can be forgettable on the red carpet, made sure her side deal with the necklace-makers was worth it, and is wearing a jeweled egg to complement her dress, whose illusion bodice doesn’t interest me nearly as much as the double-skirt does. (We’ve seen this with bare legs, which is hit or miss: this moved like the space empress to whom Glenn Close is the faithful advisor in matters of war.)
Anne Hathaway, looking about eight times more interesting in this dress than when she wore ingenue pink to accept her award last year (was it only last year they mistakenly gave her that award?). We’ll assume foot soldiers in the Goth Space Empress Army get this level of armor: lightweight, easy to repair piecemeal.
Naomi Watts, wearing an Old Hollywood jeweled column and a necklace that looks remarkably like a tiara she took as a trophy from some space royalty she probably murdered, which is a plot twist but I’m into it.
Julie Delpy, looking like the sort of magic user who would be chasing Naomi Watts through the universe to reclaim the crown of her ancestors.
Emma Watson, who heard the Space Empress thing was happening this year but couldn’t really get things together until the last second because she’s been so busy, plus isn’t super enthusiastic about promoting Noah by being here, so she did the red-carpet equivalent of a sweater-dress and called it a night.
Alfre Woodard, who has no interest in Space Anything this year, and who might be wearing flat sandals under that dress, which I respect a thousand percent.
Karen O, Deco Hollywood and looking awesome about it.
Lady Gaga, Deco Hollywood and looking self-conscious about it.
Angelina Jolie, daring me to care about her dress more than I care about her acting. I’m not taking the bait, Jolie. You can cosplay the Metropolitan Opera chandeliers all you want; it’s too late to make me care.
Portia di Rossi, one of those people who can casually inhabit their clothes so that you barely notice how her hair looks like the beginning of its own intricate lacework, and if she turned around her hair would somehow be entwined with the back of her dress.
Kerry Washington, whose styling is gorgeous, whose choice of color is charming, and whose tailoring is one of those things we’re all going to give her a pass on because who are we to to question if you need an awkward wrap-slit for comfort. If you say you do, you do. Great shoes.
Cristin Milioti, who this time last year was on the stage and is now instantly recognizable from both TV and movies, which is an impressive rise in showbiz fortunes. Her dress is ingenue standard, which is just as well your first time out, even if it’s that sort of trying lilac-beige that looks lovely in person and completely washes out in pictures. (She also appeared on the red carpet early enough to get her picture taken while people waited for the A-list, which is a whole different strategy.) Basically the only aspect of this strategy that backfired was wearing deep-red lipstick with brown undertones with a neutral outfit during a tricky afternoon lighting situation. Rookie mistake, Milioti.
Speaking of pictures, Olivia Wilde’s dress had a white panel in back that was a striking visual…if she was completely turned with her back to you. From the front and in silhouette, you couldn’t see a thing.
Idina Menzel (or Adele Mrizban, if you’re John Travolta), who is lucky that bit came her way, frankly, because this dress was bog-standard and her singing was not great. Her necklace, perhaps a poor tactical choice, might have been pressing too heavily on her windpipe.
Sarah Paulson, whose outfit has gone so neutral it’s sucking the life out of her; her lips have already fallen prey to it. Run, Sarah! It’s not too late!
Kristen Bell, wearing a bunch of trends and some debutante diamonds to remind you that she was in an Oscar nominated movie this year and would love to crowdfund an Oscar next year, if that’s a thing it’s possible to do.
Anna Kendrick, wearing a total mess.
Liza Minelli, who can’t even hear you when you say mean things about satin, thanks anyway, who managed to stay wrinkle-free, presumably thanks to the cadre of backup dancers who carried her on their shoulders all the way over.
And thus ends a solid wrap to a red-carpet season that had lots of color, a few surprises, and something serious against necklaces, a mystery that continues to intrigue me. (We’ll see what happens on the Costume Institute Gala carpet. Secrets better be revealed.)
Pictures via Yahoo!