Ten of the best-dressed losers on the Oscars red carpet

Reese Witherspoon: Old Hollywood glam in this sleek white gown. Pictures: Getty Images

Missing out on an Academy Award does not mean you can’t rule best-dressed lists forever more. Rachel Marie Walsh spotlights the Oscar losers who were best in show.

Gowns are more interesting than gongs, this is just how the Oscars are now. 

The definition of ‘best’ in any given category seldom relates to consumer opinion — only three of the top 20 grossing films of all time have received best picture nominations. Moreover, with the Harvey Weinstein allegations revealing an industry rife with abuse and both #OscarsSoWhite and Sony email hack of 2014 showing dated attitudes towards race, celebrating industry opinion seems at least questionable.

Still, we love a great gown. That perfect red carpet moment connects the contemporary ceremony to a time when stars were really stars (ie, distant and unknowable), and had that magic that helped suspend disbelief. Plus, if your favourite does not get that little gold guy, she can still look better than the star who does in images that stay online forever. Here are ten “losers” who pipped Oscar winners with style.

Renee Zellweger in Jean Dessès, 2001: 

This was an especially competitive year, fashion-wise, with Halle Berry making a star of then-newcomer Elie Saab and Bjork dressing as a swan. Renee still gets maximum style points for her vintage find from Lily et Cie, a well-respected LA vintage emporium. Zellweger showed off her post-Bridget Jones figure in canary yellow Dessès. This gown is typical of the Egyptian designer’s post-war style, which was big on Grecian drapery and chiffon and very popular with European royals (Queen Sophia of Greece and Denmark married King Juan Carlos I in Dessès in 1962). He’s hardly a red carpet staple, though, so she looks a rare bird as well as beautiful.

Jennifer Lawrence in Christian Dior, 2016:

Jennifer Lawrence has yet to put a foot wrong at the Oscars, at least where fashion is concerned. She stunned in 2016 with this sheer lace Christian Dior couture gown adorned with sequins and tiers of black feathers. Nominated for Joy, she could hold her own next to winner Brie Larson’s blue Gucci on multiple best-dressed lists.

Reese Witherspoon in Tom Ford, 2015:

Best actress Julianne Moore was chic in Chanel in 2015 but there were better gowns in her category. Nominated for her vanity-free performance as Cheryl Strayed in Wild, Reese Witherspoon looked Old Hollywood-glam in this sleek white gown. Tiffany diamonds and youthful Chantecaille makeup made her look like a winner.

Rosamund Pike in Givenchy Couture, 2015:

Rosamund was another style winner in 2015. This split-front, hourglass-sculpted Givenchy is exquisite. It is deeply unfair that actresses should feel pressure to get in pre-baby shape just weeks postpartum yet also amazing that this photo was taken two months after the Gone Girl star gave birth. She showed extreme commitment to looking flawless, this gown has a visible corset.

Saoirse Ronan in Calvin Klein Collection, 2016:

Saoirse has worn some stunning gowns to the Oscars but this Elvira-from-Scarface-inspired Calvin Klein is extra-special. The patriotic emerald colour and connection to previous nominee Michelle Pfeiffer were great references for her stylist to use for her Brooklyn moment. Chopard emeralds added some frosting.

Anna Kendrick in Elie Saab, 2010:

Anna’s charming performance in Up in the Air got the then-ingenue a best supporting actress nomination and some couture. In Scrappy Little Nobody, she writes that her stylist was paid more for dressing her to promote the film than she herself was to act, though this look was surely worth the fee. Her pink Elie Saab is perfectly fitted and oh so pretty. Suede Sergio Rossi platforms ensure the draped skirt does not drown her.

Jessica Chastain in Alexander McQueen, 2013:

Best supporting actress winner Octavia Spencer has great style but to claim Kanye West’s dogmatism from another context, Jessica had one of the best Oscars looks of all time. This Alexander McQueen gown by Sarah Burton is Met Gala-standard spectacular. With hand-applied gold-brocade scrollwork on the sculpted bodice and through the chiffon skirt, it could only be accessorised with $2m worth of yellow diamonds and princess-like hair extensions.

Ruth Negga in Valentino, 2017:

Emma Stone accessorised her Givenchy Couture with an Oscar for La La Land but there was no outshining Mega Negga, on the red carpet. Stylist Karla Welch called this her “pagan goddess look”. She wore a custom Valentino lace dress with an Irene Neuwirth crown and earrings covered in Gemfields rubies. Her ACLU blue ribbon signalled opposition to Donald Trump’s “un-American” stance on civil liberties.

Rooney Mara in Givenchy, 2012:

Rooney collaborated with then Givenchy creative head Riccardo Tisci on her dream dress in 2012. This pearl-coloured lace mermaid-gown had a skin-toned satin bra and broad straps. It looks like one of the most comfortable Oscar gowns ever, in stark contrast to winner Meryl Streep’s wayward Lanvin.

Diane Lane in Oscar de la Renta, 2003: 

The wonderful Diane Lane has had too few nominations in my view, and while Nicole Kidman beat her to best actress in 2003 there was no topping her Oscar de La Renta. The feathered skirt, ribbon-detailed back and crystal-studded bodice combine for a look so delicately beautiful an Oscar might wreck it.

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