The Oscars red carpet has never been exactly at the vanguard of feminism. Unless the five-hours-in-make-up, half-starved-to-death thing is an ongoing subversive agitprop immersive theatre piece orchestrated by Reese Witherspoon to make a point about the gender pay gap in Hollywood by illustrating how much harder the women of Hollywood have to work than the men to pass muster on the red carpet. (That would be awesome.)
Or unless, perhaps, Cate Blanchett and Alicia Vikander chose mint and lemon as their red-carpet colours this year in order to start an #oscarsopastel meme in support of #oscarsowhite. But so far, no word on this from their people, sadly.
This year’s red carpet feels like a retrograde move for the women of Hollywood, even by Oscar standards. I mean, seriously: this is the biggest night of your year, Vikander, and you wear lemon yellow and your hair in a half-bun? What are you, eight? And Cate, please. That Armani dress is about 25 times less interesting than who you are as an actress. Why sell yourself so short?
The logic goes that, just like you have to “ugly up” to win an Oscar – get fat, or at least do like Brie Larson in Room and let your hair get greasy – so you have to scrub up to win the red carpet. And red carpet glamour long ago departed from what counts as party dressing in the real world. (You can tell that from the vocabulary, which is all “goddess dress” this and “fairytale gown” that.) But this year, the look was less champagne-sipping glamour than unadulterated sugar.
The backwardness of the red carpet aesthetic was thrown into stark relief by the fact that, in the build up to and during the event, the Academy Awards’ regressive attitude toward race was very much on the agenda. By contrast, there seems to be an ongoing conspiracy of silence around infantile red-carpet fashion choices. On stage, Cate Blanchett has played complex, landmark female roles from Electra and Hedda Gabler to Ophelia and Blanche DuBois. But on the red carpet, she comes dressed as a mermaid and no one calls her out on it?
This was Brie Larson’s fashion coming-out night and, like Vikander, she opted for a schoolgirl-ish half-up, half-down hairstyle, while Olivia Wilde had birthday-party braids. (Larson’s dress was by Gucci, and Vikander’s by Louis Vuitton: two of the most exciting, challenging, personality-led labels when it comes to catwalk fashion.) Gucci designer Alessandro Michele has been a driving force behind the rise of gender-neutral clothing, while Louis Vuitton’s Nicolas Ghesquière cast Jaden Smith in a skirt for a recent womenswear campaign. Their vanilla red-carpet aesthetic, meanwhile, lags behind.
Special mention goes to Kerry Washington, who bucked the cutesy trend in a Versace dress with a black leather bodice. (No one does kickass body armour like Donatella.) Some of the other most encouraging red carpet appearances of the night were made by the youngest actresses. Jennifer Lawrence wore chic black lace Dior, and had recently bleached her hair from golden-girl-next-door to otherwordly platinum. Daisy Ridley seemed to channel Coco herself, looking like a tomboy in Chanel. Saiorse Ronan, back at the awards eight years after she was first nominated as the little sister in Atonement, wore a Calvin Klein emerald green dress which, by mirroring Keira Knightley’s most famous look in that film, neatly made the point that Ronan was now a grown woman. (Also: awesome back view.)
And there was one positive side effect of the rise of the tweeny, princess aesthetic. It displaced the Jessica Rabbit, va-va-voom corsetted shape which has had a major red carpet following in recent years. This year, the flag for that one was flown by Sofia Vergara and Reese Witherspoon, who looked like lonely mermaids out there. Rachel McAdams, whose neckline looked a little like a Speedo swimsuit, looked way more modern in her August Getty Atelier gown. Charlotte Rampling’s dress – especially the pockets, square over the breasts – was awesome, but after the Unpleasantness, it’s hard to champion Rampling, so that doesn’t help.
In the end, it was always going to be Kate and Leo’s night. Yay, Leo! But mainly, Kate Winslet in her glasses on the podium? Best look of the night.