Ah, the Oscars! The most complicated Hollywood event of the year, employing phalanxes of stylists and makeup artists and managers and PR agents and event handlers and press, where a rainstorm means scrambling to keep water off the guests, stylists flying into their kits for waterproof mascara just in case, a cadre of umbrella-holders, and forty-five PR assistants with 150 BPM heart rates and staticky radios all praying they aren’t stationed by the tent seam that’s going to dump water on Julianne Moore.
The job of the actress on the Oscars red carpet is to wear her outfit as hard as she possibly can, no matter who’s holding the camera, and Rosamund Pike is a trouper. Note how many people are behind her on that carpet,and none of them are even her people. (You know someone’s people because of the intense eye contact broken only as they scan the crowd for anyone they hate.)
The awards themselves were predictable; the evening often awkward. (I wrote about some of the inevitable self-mythologizing in Philadelphia Weekly.) But today? We’re here to look at dresses.
LOOK OF THE NIGHT
Lupita Nyong’o, in a dress of six thousand pearls sewn by hand onto a gown designed and created just for her, and if you don’t think that’s a big deal even in the age of the custom designer lend-out, Vogue apparently fought for behind-the-scenes coverage of it being made, so it’s a deal! And rightly so; the Josephine Baker echoes of the pearls at her neck down the bodice and landing on a skirt of mermaid-pearls that move just enough to keep the dress from looking stiff. It’s a stunning garment. (Alas, by being here she misses out on the Jupiter Ascending division, but I guess the article in Vogue makes up for it.)
But she wasn’t the only person who looked amazing! There were several ladies who nailed their looks last night. Please note that the Stylists’ Guild has apparently had deeply successful diplomatic talk with the Necklace Makers, because after several red carpets of nothing, they are back in a big way. Rejoice, necklace-lovers – we ride to victory this night!
LOOKING GREAT DIVISION
Cate Blanchett, consummate wearer of clothes, in raw-edge black velvet in the middle of Los Angeles rain, looking like she threw on a tee shirt. She looks so casual, in fact, that commentators made sure to note that her necklace was from Tiffany, because the nonchalance with which she’s wearing it makes it seem at first glance like something she bought at Coney Island for fun, and that if you got closer it would be nothing but rock candy and buttons instead of a six-figure clump of gems. Beautiful, unusual, a touch off-kilter; Cate Blanchett’s wheelhouse, and damn, it works.
Tegan and Sara. Here’s the deal: on the one hand, this is excellent on-brand dressing for a mainstream and possibly unfamiliar audience, from a band that tries to be slightly punk without losing their tailor, and this pair of looks is perfect for all of that. This shit is also my jam to the point that, around 5:30 in the morning while I was putting this post together, I clicked on this picture and then sleepily tried to click the outfit on the left so I could shop it, so I am probably not objective on this one.
Meryl Streep, in the official Hollywood version of the Tegan and Sara aesthetic.
Dakota Johnson, who is being dressed by people so canny I fear them even from the East Coast. The dress seems a little risque because of the neckline even though it’s scaffolded to within an inch of its life, and her mousey bangs are the intellectual-rigor counterpoint – her bangs will literally keep her dress up, they’re that intellectual. It’s an eye-catching color with a little glitz, just subdued enough not to look obnoxiously bright, minimally accessorized. It was almost as well thought-out as her refusal to be engaging on the red carpet.
Marion Cotillard. It’s rare to see this kind of silhouette on a red carpet where so much of a star’s image is at stake – you don’t want to be seen to have any additional bodily volume, no matter what. But not Marion; this modern-day sacque-back dress was impeccably tailored, but it moved behind her with restriction and ease in equal measure. Definitely a dress whose full effect requires motion, but I think it’s striking even here.
Rosamund Pike, in the full getup. She hasn’t had a full meal since that baby, and she wants you to make sure every director in town knows she’s back in fighting shape. She also wants to remind everyone that she looked amazing when she was casually covered in blood during Gone Girl; that dress is no accident.
America Ferrera, in another gorgeous Old Hollywood throwback in a stunning color. The seaming adds interest without overwhelming or looking weirdly chesty, the fabric moves like a dream, and the earrings are perfect. It looks fresh, elegant, and stylish. You can’t ask for more than that. (Except maybe a side part? Jury’s out.)
Patricia Arquette. Clean lines, simple palette, a little asymmetric visual interest; it’s what she’s been doing all season, and that’s because it works for her.
Naomi Watts. The outer material here was amazing – beautiful texture and movement, unexpected but elegant neckline. The sequined band-bra effect and hip cutouts are very 2015, for better or worse (probably worse), and will date this dress in short order, but such is the burden of many a fashion-forward person, and Naomi Watts knows what she’s doing.
Jessica Chastain, who has a tendency to be worn by red carpet dresses. But even though this one seems a little busy (when the bias cut is so dramatic you need a thigh slit in order to walk, you know it’s a serious dress), it’s such a fantastic color on her, and I like the off-kilter draping and competing textures enough that it lives here. (The Necklace Makers have also been very kind; this year’s necklace harvest was bountiful and they have forgiven the slights of the past.)
Gina Rodriguez. I was not a fan of this dress particularly; it’s a lovely color (depending on the light in the shot), but the scarf neckline combined with her makeup ages her ten years from her last red carpet, and not in a fun way. However, turns out this dress is made from peace silk and is dyed with environmentally-friendly pigments, which pushed it up from “okay” to “oh, okay!”, which is all she really needs for a red carpet where she’s still just a guest. (Someday…)
And while I was undecided on the color of Gina’s dress, she also went up a few rungs on the ladder when I realized how beige a red carpet this was going to end up being.
A WHITER SHADE OF PALE DIVISION
Carmen Ejogo, a Marcel dream in a flapper wonder, and a reminder that pale neutrals look amazing on women of color. (Congratulations on being on good terms with the necklace makers! Hopefully next year you’ll be on good enough terms that they’ll give you a two-inch extender and that necklace won’t look quite so uncomfortable.)
Julianne Moore. So, sometimes you know you’re going to be showing up and collecting an award. It’s been that kind of season for her, and that’s fine! She had a speech locked and loaded, it’s fine. And this silhouette is sleek, the color is definitely white enough to avoid the Bread Dough Syndrome that affected some of her peers, and the neckline is interesting. But from far away, this looks like a huge grosgrain ribbon being woven through enormous eyelet, and from up close it looks like fresh embellishment that died during the long winter. Luckily, everything from the clavicle up is on point; she knew she’d be taking the stage and wanted to be ready for her close-up.
Zoe Saldana, deeply unimpressed with how everyone else is wearing their neutrals, quietly taking them to school about it in perfect Old Hollywood style.
Zendaya, completing an Old Hollywood trilogy with a dress so draped it looks almost painful, and some amazing locks.
Kerry Washington, in an intriguing peplum dress that is just enough interest without interrupting the silhouette.
Jennifer Aniston, two hairdresser sessions away from her goal of being the soothing color palette of a single human finger.
Jennifer Lopez, never less than Full Diva, who got made fun of for her red eye makeup, but since she looks like a fantastic sparkly cake topper instead of the half-baked cake, that red eye makeup did its job.
Keira Knightley, whose performance as an Etsy wall hanging outstrips most of her actual performances in tweeness, which is saying something.
Reese Witherspoon, who at least went with crisp white and black rather than risking a nude neutral, has found the look that works for her. She’s going to wear it forever. You will pry her sleek silhouettes in a variety of crisp colors out of her cold, dead hands. It’s not exciting, but she doesn’t care; she’s got a great producing gig going, and she just doesn’t want any more of the floaty ingenue bullshit in her life, and that makes sense to me!
But not everyone went plain beige; some decided to get as much sparkle going as possible. They were fun! How fun? I think you know how fun.
JUPITER ASCENDING DIVISION
God, who else is glad this movie came out just in time for the sparkliest-dress event of the year? I sure as hell am. I’m also glad that movie’s plot was so entirely all over the place, because now, we all get a chance to just ditch all those dragon guys and space rollerblades and really go to town.
Viola Davis, Empress of the Gliese system, who specialize in exporting sustainable resources that are not human goo, because I don’t want to get into that here and that movie did not really want to get into it either. The seaming on her bodice is heraldry, depicting the Milky Way at the top of Mount Celeste, tallest mountain on Gliese 581-A. Her necklace: a gift from the Necklace Guild, cementing their good relations after centuries of discord.
Ava DuVernay, High Priestess of the Sky Worshipers, and advisor to the throne. Her counsel is wise; her hair, on point. (No joke, the cut on this bodice is so architectural and the shape of the embellishment so sharp, the color just enough to be eye-catching without being an over fuck-you to her snub for Best Director; if you subtly wanted to remind the Academy you were young and had an eye for what works and you planned to be back here someday, you could not pick a better dress.)
Laura Dern, Captain of the Empress’ Guard. She wears the Amulet of Andromeda, a gift directly from the Empress and one not readily bestowed; the sight of it alone has been enough to stop battles.
Emma Stone,the Empress’ elder daughter, paying tribute to the beautiful poison atmosphere of Gliese 581-B. (I lost a dollar betting someone she’d do the evening-pants thing on this red carpet just to make it a hat trick; owning up to it here because clearly I am not Stylist Guild material.)
Jamie Chung, the Empress’ younger daughter, dress like the Great Comet that decorates the sky but once every two hundred years! Or, the annual fireworks display during the Winter Festival, whichever.
Octavia Spencer. I was not a huge fan of this dress – it’s a beautiful silhouette, but has an odd train that takes away from the embellishment on the bodice and turns it into a curtain – but after the night she had trying to appease Neil Patrick Harris, she gets to be the Head of State for the Gliese Empress, because she should be able to have fun somehow.
Agata Trzebuchowska, novitiate of the Sky Worshipers. Her heart is pure, but when she discovers a plot against the throne, will she be asked to compromise her beliefs for the sake of the Empress? The Sky sees everything…
Rita Ora, one of the many Naval officers of the poisonous-gas seas of Gliese 581-B, breaking one of the few fashion rules I firmly believe, which is that your dress should never be wider than you are tall.
And Lady Gaga as the scheming pretender to the throne; those lobster gloves and that thermal ballgown are eveningwear de rigueur for the thousand-degree heat of Gliese 581-C, so we know she has the sheer physical stamina to make this coup happen, but without the support of the Necklace Guild, will her ambitions be thwarted? Tune in next red carpet for the exciting conclusion!
…which will hopefully not feature any more dresses like these.
OH GOSH NO THANKS DIVISION
I am not a fan of Scarlett Johannson, but her palpable disgust that some dude’s allowed to paw her on the red carpet when she’s fucking busy doing her job is the actual embodiment of Oh Gosh No Thanks.
In actual dress news, I laughed out loud imagining her stylist getting one look at that amazingly butch haircut and diving for the jewelry. “THE SKINTIGHT DRESS WILL NOT BE ENOUGH. BRING ME A NECKLACE AS BIG AS HER ENTIRE NECK, QUICKLY.”
Also, John Travolta needs to just fall in a hole.
When I was a kid, I had a Fashion Plates toy, which in theory helped you develop a sense of style by playing with silhouette and the causal relationship between sections of an ensemble, but in reality was used by soulless monsters (me) to make ever more horrific fashion atrocities in which no third of an outfit visually belonged to any other third. In other news, here’s Sienna Miller.
Chloe Moretz, who woke up this morning in some dingy but picturesque town where she’s been staying just to get some air, you know? Just to like, think and whatever? But today snuck up on her, and she woke up at the Sleep Tite Motel and panicked, because holy crap, right? But turns out Janet at the front desk used to sew for the community theater back in Bisbee, and Chloe’s been so nice, she’ll just go get a bedspread from the back and whip something up in no time. Thanks anyway, Janet.
Felicity Jones, in custom McQueen. This silhouette has been hit or miss for her this season, and I suspect that her gown went like this: Someone said, “The top will be modest but covered in little flowers, and the skirt will be a billowy ballgown,” and she said, “Oh, that sounds marvelous!” and then during the fittings it got more embellished and ever billowier and she was simply too British to ask them to stop.
Nicole Kidman. Sure, it may look like she’s washed out by her too-pale yelllow and her hand has become inexplicably glued to her hair, but that’s a simplistic way to look at it that totally ignores the manager hovering just out of sight of the camera, shouting “More carefree! Touch your hair MORE CAREFREELY!” just like the stylists told her to.
Margot Robbie. I mean, if you want to cosplay Scarfce Michelle Pfeiffer, I guess that’s fine, but it’s sub-optimal. Selina Kyle is peak Michelle Pfeiffer (and I say that not as the writer of Catwoman but as someone who appreciates the way a sequined black dress with evening sleeves looks on a staircase in a fancy ballroom). Anything less is a compromise. Also, for someone who has ostensibly had plenty of time to prepare for this event, there’s a weirdly awkward cant to her shoulders that never dropped. All her pictures look like this. Those loins are fuckin’ girded.
Chrissy Teigen,. It’s a lot of look. I love the makeup and jewelry (that lipstick makes this entire look), love the color, dig the bodice, and am not sure about this bodice and this skirt together. However, faint heart never won red carpet.
Tara! The Oscars Press Machine is in full effect through Tara this evening. Tara is not in line for judgment because she was Chris Evans’ +1, a long-time friend from the real world, and though I suspect Chris Evans is currently the level of famous where a professional was definitely called in to make sure his friend looked presentable because he is not allowed to make any decisions by himself until his Marvel contract is up, she also presumably did not have a stylist culling ready-to-wear for her months ahead of time or a team of on-call stylists desperately spraying organic shellac onto her hair before the attendant removed the umbrella and subjected her to the red carpet while her PR assistant stood by with lip gloss, and we are here to examine the careful planning of a professional’s image by a team of other professionals, not to judge the fashion choices of non-participant ladies who agreed to come hang out for a night.
And I like to imagine that conversation went like this:
“Sure, I’ll be your date to the Oscars.”
“Okay, but play it cool if anyone asks if you’re my girlfriend.”
“Oh no, obviously.”
Because my favorite thing about Tara is how she could not even keep it together for half a second as soon as the interviewer said the g-word. The picture above was taken from my television in the instant her “OH GOSH NO THANKS” face was most immediate, before it had time to settle into anything more polite, and honestly it was one of the highlights of my night. Tara, your dress was lovely and I like your hair, and you did a great job pretending like waving to a stranger on cue across a balcony was fun thing everybody was obviously very excited to do, which was very nice of you. I hope Chris Evans appreciates having you as a guest, because filling up his airtime with laughs about this misunderstanding saved him from having to answer literally any other questions.
And he knows it.