How the stars dress to impress at the Oscars

The red carpet is the ultimate platform for stars to communicate, not just with fans, but with Hollywood power players, helping to put an emerging talent on the map, or telling the world what type of role you’re after, writes Carolyn Moore.

It’s all eyes on Hollywood this weekend as the big names battle it out for the ultimate showbiz accolade, but for fashion fans, the real battle is won or lost on the Oscars red carpet.

By Monday morning, the best and worst dressed will have been decreed, often without taking into consideration the scriptures of red carpet style to which stars and their stylists must adhere. 

It’s not just about who wore what, it’s also about why.

Since the golden age of Hollywood, stars of the silver screen have used fashion to cultivate their image, with studios appointing costume designers to outfit their stars, not just for movies, but for public appearances, too.

Theirs was a system where stars were created, not born; given new names, new hair colours and new personas, as they embarked on their glamorous careers. 

Bombshells were played off against demure starlets and, once established, a star’s image had to be perpetuated and protected. In the economy of Hollywood, image is a precious commodity.

These days, the machinations behind celebrity image-making are subtler, but no less calculated, and celebrity stylists have stepped up to turn image-making into an art form.

Fashion can put an emerging talent on the map — Lupita Nyong’o became a household name over the course of one awards season — but it can also help an established star alter how she is perceived. 

Who can forget the moment Dawson’s Creek actress Michelle Williams arrived at the 2006 Academy Awards looking like Hollywood royalty in that iconic Vera Wang?

Fashion can help an actress land a coveted role — recall Madonna’s radical image change as she chased the lead in Evita — and equally it can quietly dissent that an actress isn’t right for a part.

It’s no coincidence that Rooney Mara’s switch to an edgier, gothic style coincided with her controversial casting as Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

The red carpet has become the ultimate platform from which stars can wordlessly communicate, not just with fans, but with Hollywood power players, too. If someone suffers a fall from grace, she can even repent through fashion.

When Sienna Miller attended the 2004 Oscars on the arm of Jude Law, the quintessential party girl was rocking her signature boho style. 

Eleven years and several career bumps later, she returned on her own merit. 

Having been given a second chance by Hollywood, this time, she showed the Academy the respect they think they deserve, in a dress that said, I take myself seriously now; you should too.

Showing that you take the Academy seriously is paramount on the Oscars red carpet. 

Where the Golden Globes — a boozier, more informal event — is known for red carpet risk-taking, few actresses have the gravitas to have fun with fashion at the Oscars.

Cate Blanchett’s unconventional lilac Givenchy gown was a stand out in 2011, but crucially she was there that year as a presenter.

Even Cate adheres carefully to red carpet protocol and, when the Academy recognises her with a nomination, she reciprocates that respect by eschewing edgier fashion options in favour of something more classic and timeless.

So that’s the conundrum for this year’s style-setters. While fans wait to see what long-time fashion favourite Emma Stone and newfound style obsession Ruth Negga will wear, the truth is both will probably play it safe. 

Ruth is not favourite to win, so, like Saoirse Ronan last year, she can probably push the sartorial envelope a little. But front-runner Emma will likely follow the lead of past favourites who went on to win. 

Like Alicia Vikander, who last year abandoned her fashion-forward style in favour of a gown fit for a princess, Stone will chose her look, not with the red carpet, but with the press room, in mind.

From Lupita to Cate to Jennifer Lawrence, every past winner knows the image of them clutching their trophy is the one that will be remembered for decades and, while Oscar dresses generally fall into two categories — the famous and the infamous — the winner’s looks can generally be best described as “safe”.



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