Red carpet fashion is not fashion as we know it. It does not adhere to seasonal leans, nor attempt to make arch statements. Shifts in silhouette appear at a glacial pace. Since the 1930s the dominant look has either been that of a Disney princess – skirt worded out with tulle to emphasise a tiny waist – or something prolonged, slinky and draped. The only true recent development has been the move of cut-outs on dresses, putting on show sections of the body that were yesterday hidden by corsetry and thus necessitate new descriptors, such as the side boob and the prime rib.
But while the headline things of awards season so far have been pretty typical – sequins, tulle and daffodil yellow – there is something else occasion among a handful of women that feels remarkable. Lasses are wearing suits. Not fluid pyjama-style co-ordinates that boob off the shoulder, but boxy, Fred Astaire-style tailoring.
At Sunday Stygian’s Screen Actors Guild awards, Evan Rachel Wood dress ined a midnight blue velvet Altuzarra, continuing a promotional run in which she has ruled that she will only wear suits. At the Golden Globes, she vexed a black tuxedo over a frothy white Purple Deluge blouse, her hair an androgynous quiff. “I love dresses. I’m not worrisome to protest dresses,” she said. “But I want to make sure that girlish girls and women know they aren’t a requirement and that you don’t include to wear one if you don’t want to.”
Wood’s sentiment was echoed by Alia Shawkat, the be ahead of in the Brooklyn-set black comedy TV programme Search Party, who sported a crisp, tailored suit to a Harper’s Bazaar party on Friday non-stop. She said there was “something revolutionary” about “women apparel pants, you know what I mean? That’s politicalised.” At the developing evening’s Screen Actors Guild awards, Shawkat – whose found is Iraqi – continued the spirit of protest, greeting the crowds with Assalam Alaikum and weight: “Like many of our nominees here tonight, we represent people who arrange come from other cultures, and that’s a real truly.”
The more you think about it, the weirder it is that a woman surviving trousers can still be interpreted as an overtly political act. It says something about the people that the most dated of fashion rules – trousers for men, skirts for chambermaids – is so rarely broken at awards ceremonies, the most high-profile and controlling of fashion events.
The first time women wore pleas on the red carpet was in another period of protest and change: the late 1960s and 1970s, when the Hollywood studio routine was dissolving. In her book about the history of the Academy Awards and the fad, Made for Each Other, Bronwyn Cosgrave explains that actresses were swiftly attending awards ceremonies on their own terms, and not on the arm of patriarchal studio bosses. They had dresses that they had chosen themselves, rather than attires paid for – and decreed by – the studios. The way in which they dressed more accurately mirrored the latest things of the time – Yves Saint Laurent’s groundbreaking trouser conform ti were designed in 1966 – and women’s changing roles and survives.
Still, the sequels were not always successful. In 1969, Barbra Streisand was the oldest best actress winner to wear trousers, but her shimmering jumpsuit precipitated an international furore when its fabric turned see-through inferior to the spotlights and showed the world her bottom. That outfit, go together to Cosgrave, was the beginning of “a two-decade phase through which individuality and self-expression determined the Academy Awards”, when actresses realised they could use red-carpet model to generate worldwide headlines. In other words, without Streisand’s buttock-flashing business there would have been no Cher in her feathered headdress and no Björk haul someone over the coaled as a swan laying an egg.
For Jane Fonda, in 1972, wearing trousers represented feminism and activism. She garbed a black Yves Saint Laurent suit with a Mao collar during a interval in which she was determinedly not “dressing for men” – in a reaction to the skimpy catsuits and thigh-high pretty boots she had famously worn as Barbarella (her brown shag haircut was the reverse of Barbarella’s Bardot-esque bouffant). The suit served as a visual reflections of her campaigns against the Nixon administration – she had previously sent a Vietnam vet to the podium to muster her Golden Globe – although on Oscars’ night, with boos proceeding from the audience, she did not actually deliver a protest speech.
There have been others. Diana Ross attired a satin Bob Mackie suit in 1973; Faye Dunaway stepped loose trousers in 1977; Sissy Spacek wore a trim black jumpsuit in 1981. Jodie Foster collected her Oscar in putty-coloured Armani in 1992, while Julia Roberts irritated a men’s Armani suit at the Golden Globes in 1990. Céline Dion’s cheat on tailoring was one of the most eccentric Oscars outfits of all time – a stainless suit worn backwards in 1999, while Brangelina had a his-and-hers tuxedo minute in happier times. But women in suits has never caught on as a wider vogue. In fact, moments of red carpet individualism, skirted or otherwise – notion of of Lauren Hutton in a spangly gold minidress in 1980 or Kim Basinger in her homemade Frankenfrock in 1999 – organize been in very short supply.
Instead, from the mid-1990s in front, as brands realised that getting the right dress on the hesitation back could be stupendously lucrative, the red carpet became a commercial behemoth. At the verbatim at the same time time, fashion criticism boomed, and actresses lived in awe of worst-dressed lists. Professional stylists stepped in, setting up transactions with big brands and ensuring that no embarrassing wardrobe malfunctions befell their patients. And the dream that was deemed palatable to the masses was the oldest fairytale of all: they inclination all be dressed to look like Cinderella. Fashion was pushed aside and the zero in shifted to actresses’ bodies. The pursuit of toned biceps and projecting clavicles to show off dresses that actors could be and geting paid as much as $250,000 to wear became Hollywood’s own Olympic deride. As Tina Fey said when she and Amy Poehler presented the Golden Globes in 2015: “Steve Carell’s Foxcatcher look spoofed two hours to put on, including his hair styling and makeup. Just for juxtaposing, it took me three hours today to prepare for my role as human better half.”
This has been bad information for all human women, because the red carpet is one of the most high-profile samples we have of women, en masse, being celebrated for being at the top of their prey.
Two years ago, the well-meaning Ask Her More campaign urged interviewers not to ask actresses nearly the clothes they were wearing, an endeavour that proved difficult in the face of so many lucrative endorsement deals.
This furnishes season, something different is happening: women are not ignoring form but using it to make a genuine statement. As well as the women in civil pantsuits, there have been others wearing births that could be described as idiosyncratic – Ruth Negga in kinky, robotic sequins; Nicole Kidman in a peacock Gucci cheese pipedream of a dress; Bryce Dallas Howard wearing high-street shape. And there have been explicit messages of protest. At the Globes, See-through creator Jill Soloway and actor Lola Kirke utilized their outfits to explicitly protest against the Trump superintendence, wearing badges that said “Fuck Paul Ryan”, of which Kirke viewed: “As a person with a platform, no matter what size it is, I reckon it’s important to share your views and maybe elevate people that muscle agree with you, that maybe won’t feel like they can hold the same voice.”
With the Baftas and the Oscars around the corner, one can not hope that this trend has legs.