Although the Oscars are often denounced for offering less interesting fashion than the other awards ceremonies in the season, there’s been some pretty outrageous outfits over the years. Icelandic singer Bjork raised eyebrows in her swan dress in 2001 (just to be clear the dress wasn’t swan-inspired, it was literally the head and neck of a fake swan draped bizzarely around the singer’s neck – plus it laid eggs – see above!). In 1986, pop icon Cher arrived wearing a two-foot black headpiece and a beaded bra top with web-like detailing, while Diane Keaton’s 2002 bowler hat and tails, complete with Spats and spectacles, was a lesson in how not to do masculine chic.
I think what the Oscars red carpet needs is less caricature and more character. The difficulty of dressing for a black tie event (for any woman, celebrity or otherwise) is that we tend to have an image of what we think we should look like, and usually that visual is something vaguely princessy. So women either overdo it or overreact to it. Bjork, Cher and Keaton fall into the latter category, while Kim Basinger’s crazy looking half-bridal gown, half one-armed tuxedo in 1990 fell into the former. The dress was utterly confused and Basinger looked like a woman who had succumbed to the pressure of trying to dress to impress. She designed the ensemble herself, which was her first big mistake. If you have access to the most talented fashion houses in the world, use them.
The actresses who most often impress on Oscars night are not the rebels and reactionaries, or those who stick to a generic formula of sweetheart necklines and column-length skirts (doesn’t Kate Winslet look like she wears the same dress to every awards event?), but the stars who dress with personality and who choose pieces that reflect something of themselves. They take measured risks, and although they may not wind up on every best-dressed list, they certainly provoke a conversation, and it’s this dialogue that is part of what makes fashion (and awards season) so much fun. When was the last time you heard a lively exchange about a Kate Winslet gown?
Irish actress Catriona Balfe is a case in point. The Delpozo gown she wore to this year’s Golden Globes was everything a modern red carpet gown should be, I think. It had the traditional strapless, floor-length silhouette, but the tangerine and navy colour combination as well as the directional gathered detailing gave it a modern spin. Balfe didn’t fall into the sartorial trap of wearing Cinderella-style sugary shades and swathes of tulle, as many do at these events. Instead, she chose colours that had strength and depth and worked beautifully with her pale Celtic complexion and a cut that mirrored her own modernity. Not everybody loved the dress at the IMAGE offices, but it certainly got the post-Globes conversation going.
I love that we never know what to expect from Cate Blanchett. She’s embraced many style personas over the years, but always with the confidence and poise of a woman who fundamentally knows who she is. Would I have chosen to dress her in the teal-coloured floral applique Armani Prive dress she wore to the 2016 Oscars? Probably not, but I enjoyed how the dress challenged my perception of Blanchett and the notion of 3D flowers as embellishment (not my usual vibe). She’s recognised as a superb actress, and as a strong, confident, articulate woman, but Blanchett showed the softer side of her personality in this dress. She’s self-assured enough to embrace her femininity on the red carpet, but more importantly she understands how to do this without looking like something out of an early Disney movie.
Like everyone else, first thing Monday morning I’ll be scrolling through the IMAGE.ie Oscar galleries. This year, I’m hoping for fewer rebels, less genericism and lots of personality. I want to see fashion that makes me think and smile… not howl with incredulity.