The SAGs: The one where everyone tries the style stuff they aren’t sure will work for the Oscars, the Emmys, or the Globes!

That’s not entirely fair; obviously, at this point in our late capitalist celebrityscape, every red carpet counts. And in some ways, the SAGs are a playground for actors in ensembles, where other red carpet camera appearances aren’t quite as guaranteed and they get to go all out for this one. We’ll see some of this later, from actors who are silently auditioning for other parts and/or trying to catch the eye of overwhelmed photographers! (Also, the usual disclaimer that if you think all this means I am claiming any immunity to red carpet optics because I’m somehow above all this, I wrote two books that weaponize the Miss Universe national costume contest. I am deep under this.)

But it’s also a good red carpet for trying something you’re not entirely sure about, because if it’s great then it’ll go viral anyway, and if it’s a little weird, at least you didn’t do it at the Oscars. For instance, Michael B. Jordan made the right decision to wear that harness for the SAGs – not because it’s a good idea, since it is not a good idea and ruins the line of his lapels while giving nothing back, but because he tried it here, while there’s still time to recalibrate and find a better jacket if he decides he wants to wear a harness again at the Oscars.

This is the second harness of the season, and this is not a trend I’m excited about, but it has opened up the very interesting arena of men needing to figure out how to make a difficult accessory look effortless the way women on the red carpet are so often asked to do. (I have faith that if this trend hangs around, someone will find the necessary level of nonchalance, even though Keanu Reeves managed it with leather suspenders in 1994 while sitting on a bed for an interview and gently howling at the moon, which sort of sets a bar.)

Anyway, the Black Panther women look very good up there – Lupita Nyong’o’s choices are not always to my taste but they’re always interesting and she wears the shit out of them, and Danai Gurira looks like a 1930s socialite who Just Can’t Imagine Where Her Husband Went, Detective, so that’s all perfect. (And there’s Angela Bassett, who was timed to arrive separately, who dressed as the most toned spiky sea cucumber of all time. It is not a dress I particularly like, but is definitely the dress Angela Bassett wanted and Angela Bassett does not particularly give a fuck if I like it or not, so we’re all set here.)

 

Angela Bassett is one of those actors who has the skill set to make a red carpet work for her instead of trying to work the red carpet. I will say until I am blue in the face that it is a different skill set than acting (even a different one than modeling), and one’s acting ability has almost nothing to do with one’s ability to navigate the complete chaos of a red carpet, which is absolutely packed to the gills with employees, assistants, security, photographers, and fans. To be perfectly frank, I think I would fold like a bad hand of poker if you got me within fifty feet of one of these.

 

Seeing Adam Driver, a good actor who pretends things for a living, flanked by professionals and clearly still desperate to hold it together (that thumb business is the same thing I do the moment I get lost somewhere, as if that will orient me to magnetic north) has only confirmed my fears.

 

There’s also Margot Robbie, with equal but opposite energy, who looks like she is about to pivot and beat the ever-living snot out of every man standing behind her. (She should also have a stern talk with whoever convinced her to wear that dress, but that doesn’t detract from the fed-up vibe of this photo.)

 

Honestly, there’s plenty to get fed up about. Every shot of a red carpet in full swing is a beast.

And the key to a successful red carpet is, in some ways, pretending that none of it is happening, and in other ways, understanding that a lot is happening and you’re being asked to deliver a product. (Like Lady Gaga, who commits to red carpets, even in small hand gestures that age me five years every time I look at the gif.)

But polish and red-carpet success aren’t necessary intertwined, either.

Margo Martindale, nailing the pajama-goth aesthetic I myself treasure, and looking as confident as anyone could ask. (Maybe more so, since her shoes look comfortable! She can do that photo line all day! She’s got arch support!)

Naturally, very few people went so casual. And in keeping with the increasingly self-aware carpet culture, very few risked looking bad.

 

LOOKING GREAT DIVISION

Michelle Yeoh. Yes. Amazing. Full glam. A little surprised she kept this back for the SAGs instead of using it for the Golden Globes, but she also knew she’d be onstage at least once and very feasibly twice, so deploying it now makes sense to me. I love the sharp line across the collarbones, the giant earrings, the ice-witch vibes, the whole deal.

 

Rachel Weisz. I can tell we’re in for a red carpet season of dresses that have one too many elements, like designers all got together and dared each other to draw four things from a pile of index cards and get them all into one dress. Anyway, Asymmetric Short Sleeve Layered Belted Velvet Shimmery With Feathers works better here than it has any right to, which says something about how Rachel Wesiz wears clothes.

 

Yara Shahidi. I actually sort of love this. There’s still one too many things happening, but she really knows how to make the garment she’s wearing look both stylish and playful in a way that can sometimes get lost on a carpet where everyone’s trying to be very careful to show off the loaner jewelry and get their designer dress into as many conversations as possible. She looks like she loves it and thinks you should, too. I’m buying.

 

Samira Wiley. Same situation, with slightly less success – when she loves the dress she makes it look amazing, but when she’s not quite sure about something you can tell that, too. Still, she’s trying her damndest to enjoy Chiffon Sequin Boobstrap Crossback Velvet Belt Split-Leg.

 

Sandra Oh is going full Scarlett O’Hara in this, and I’ll take it. (I am desperate to know who first realized there wasn’t going to be time to steam the curtains at one of the professional photo stops, and whether it’s going to haunt them forever.)

 

Gemma Chan. Her team is working overtime to make her a fixture this red-carpet season. (Half the reason to wear a skirt like that to a carpet like this is to make sure everybody has to turn their cameras to get it all, and you end up a blog header.) Anyway, she looks lovely, and I am very curious about her hand positions, since she’s had a different signature one for every red carpet this season. She is leaving nothing to chance.

 

Megan Mullally. Good choice of McQueen; the t-shirt sleeves with the Mackintoshian Nouveau motifs are really interesting without trying to be ingenue.

 

Laverne Cox in a beautifully draped number that looks like a 1930s torch singer who Just Can’t Imagine Where Her Boss Went, Detective.

 

Emma Stone. I am very interested in the evolution of the black-tie pant. We’ve seen a huge uptick in suits and tuxedos in the last few years, and I like a lot about this blouse – it’s on-trend in that I wish it had dropped one element before it left the house, but it looks suitably luxe here. (Would this work for the Oscars? Likely not. This is a SAG trouser. But it’s a very good one.)

 

Constance Wu. This is one approach to the SAGs; look very good, but in a slightly casual way. Tousled hair, simple gown, minimal jewelry. Just having a fun, relaxed time at the SAG awards.

 

Julia Garner. What a lovely and unusual color – the slightly surfy hair and Youthful Carelessness lipstick work perfectly against the 1940s silhouette of a young studio darling who Just Can’t Imagine Where Her Manager Went, Detective.

 

Melissa McCarthy. Excellent example of a SAG dress. Does she look good? Yes. Is it appropriately fancy? Yes. Are there any concerns it’s a bit too glitzy for the occasion? Nope! It’s just the SAGs.

 

Patricia Clarkson. This is not a SAG dress. This is someone who wanted to cosplay as Versailles, and a team of people who helped her realize her dream.

 

Awkwafina. This is a lovely dress (the cozy cowl is a really interesting choice, and I could wish that the turtleneck/shoulder pads/hair combo didn’t make her shoulders look quite so far up her neck, but those are minor). Plus you can tell how fast she’s rocketing to stardom because she got to hem it for this.

 

Mandy Moore. Not quite sure what to make of it. There’s definitely nothing wrong with this dress, which is pared-down in a very thoughtful way. It’s just that all night she looked as if someone in the photographers’ pit was explaining The Book of Henry to her with assistive flash cards, and I am concerned.

 

Shangela. On a red carpet where a lot of looks had a little too much going on, this textured ombre makes a cohesive statement that really works. Plus, gotta love a nice casual earring.

 

Emily Blunt, in a dress that feels chosen to be filmed from the waist up during your acceptance speech but also looks a little bit like an alien socialite who Just Can’t Imagine Where Her Genetically-Compatible Otherbeing Went, Anomaly Investigator.

 

 

Of course, the SAGs are a great place to line up everyone from an ensemble show on one of the red carpets where being honored as an ensemble is an actual option for the evening. It’s interesting to watch casts try to navigate that space of not quite being together, but wishing to be a little unified. The cast of GLOW has had a lot of fun with it, since it seems they all try to skew slightly ’80s (very easy given how many of those design elements have cycled back), and it ends up working really well. Sometimes too well.

 

JUST CAN’T GET ENOUGH DIVISION

This is not here because it’s the best of this lot. This is here because this is the most unapologetically ’80s Rich Bitch garment I have seen in a long time. She more than anyone else in this cast tends to dress pointing towards the ’80s as it is. This dress has two structural-support bows at the hip just to balance the weight of the giant back bow. This is the gown of a woman who’s about to stage a hostile takeover of our hero’s family oil company. And she knows.

 

Betty Gilpin. Is it the ’80s? Sure. Is disco going to die? Fuckin’ never.

 

Marianna Palka. When a desperate young man begs his neighbor to pretend to be his girlfriend at the family’s annual gala, to get his nosey mother off his tail, Marianna Palka didn’t know quite know how rich he was – or that he was a prince!

 

Sunit Amani. She’s a graduate student (sculpture? Art history? Something) who’s thrown into the deep end when her twin sister – a supermodel – begs her to take over for Fashion Week. Soon, Sunit Amani will find herself in Paris, on a whirlwind adventure that teaches her about fashion…and love.

 

Gayle Rankin. If this was committed to the ’80s aesthetic, that bow would be real and she would be wearing it to a fundraiser as the scrappy, down-on-her-luck heiress who ends up coaching Troop Beverly Hills through the Wilderness Girls Jamboree, but I’ll take this.

 

Ellen Oh. She’s a glamorous vampire. I assume she’s attended a symphony gala because she’s in the middle of the process of seducing a troubled musician to be her new consort.

 

Britney Young. The men at her company are trying to edge her out of the merger she’s masterminded. It’s up to her to crash a corporate cocktail party and show those jerks that women can have it all.

 

Everyone in the senior class thought Kimmy Gatewood would never come to prom. (She played drums, for God’s sake!) But with a little help from her father’s best shirt and her mother’s wedding dress, Kimmy Gatewood was going to prove all of them wrong.

 

Everybody in school knew Britt Baron was going to prom. She was head of the prom committee.

 

Kate Nash, the school chaperone desperate for love!

 

Sydelle Noel, an interpretive dancer who will change the face of ballet – and aerobics – forever.

 

They aren’t the only looks on the red carpet that did a lot of work; every look is trying to do a lot of work, even if it doesn’t quite translate. There aren’t a lot of poor showings these days; the worst you tend to get by now are nondescript outfits. But even then, are they really nondescript? Everything means something. Everything.

 

SENDING OUT AN SOS DIVISION

Elisabeth Moss. Look, this isn’t a terrible dress; this dress is very nice, and it’s one of the more successful red-carpet belts this evening. This is just such a giant departure from her usual silhouettes, which often aim for Impossibly Upscale Cocktail Party on carpets that are technically more formal than this one, that I’m just gently baffled about the aim of this garment. She isn’t auditioning for anything – she’s got her pick of indie flicks and Handmaid’s Tale will be torturing her for at least another season. This is bridal; if this is jilted-best-actress pre-messaging, that’s kind of a delight.

 

Rachel Brosnahan. Did you know she’s on a TV show about a woman in the late ’50s – on the very cusp of the sleek, swinging ’60s – trying to navigate her career and negotiate her ideas of performative femininity? Well, you do now, asshole.

 

Amy Adams. God, I’m so curious about this dress. Did the team figure that the hypertailored simplicity of her Golden Globes dress didn’t net her the statue, and so just they’re going to make her dresses increasingly complicated until she wins something?

 

Madeline Brewer. Veronica’s worked hard to turn Riverdale High School into The Matriculator, the North Side’s newest nightclub. But when Cheryl crashes the party, will things graduate…to violence?

 

And even this outfit isn’t terrible. (It’s a statement, but again, the SAGs are a good place to try out stuff like this, and if it calls back too effectively to some existing character design, there are worse things.) There are a few yawns in the mix, but it’s striking how seriously everyone’s taking this carpet. In the past, the SAGs have come across like a too-cool cocktail party. But the red carpet engine moves in smaller and smaller circles, and there’s very little room for mistakes any more. Fascinating to see the stakes get higher across the board. It makes me very, very curious what this year’s Oscars will look like. Can’t wait to see the dresses with seventeen elements they find for that one.