Capes, chainmail and kaftans … the first post-ballgown Oscars

Old Hollywood glamour – and the values its represented – gave way at this year’s Academy Awards to a new generation of fresh looks and powerful stances

In a shock result, the ballgown did not sweep the board at the Oscars. The fairytale princess gown – a shoo-in for red carpet success since the days when Vivien Leigh was making mat – had a disappointing night.

Instead Billie Eilish, 18-year-old performer and quintuple Grammy winner, wore an oversized cream Chanel trousersuit with Shrek green hair and Scissorhand nails. Natalie Portman had the names of female directors overlooked by the Academy this year, including Greta Gerwig and Lulu Wang, embroidered in gold script into her Christian Dior cape. Spike Lee was regal in Lakers purple in tribute to Kobe Bryant – a collaboration with Gucci. Ten-year-old Julia Butters, the scene-stealing young actor in Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, wore a fuchsia western-style Christian Siriano shirt-dress with a sparkling bolo tie instead of a necklace.

Natalie Portman wears a cape with the names of female film directors who were not nominated for Oscars
Natalie Portman wears a cape with the names of female film directors who were not nominated for Oscars Photograph: Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images
  • Natalie Portman wore a cape embroidered with the names of female film directors who were not nominated for Oscars.

Julia Butters, 10 yrs old in Siriano
Julia Butters, 10 yrs old in Siriano Photograph: Mike Blake/Reuters
Spike Lee and his wife Tonya Lewis Lee
Spike Lee and his wife Tonya Lewis Lee Photograph: Alex Gallardo/EPA
  • Julia Butters, 10 yrs old in Siriano, and Spike Lee in a Lakers purple in tribute to Kobe Bryant.

Old Hollywood glamour is deeply symbolic of Old Hollywood values, so this shift is not only about clothes. The classic “Oscar dress” look celebrates not just a 1950s silhouette but a 1950s vision of popcorn-scented, drive-in-cinema Americana. The Academy Awards may be dragging their heels over diversity and the underrepresentation of women, but the red carpet is starting to drag the Oscars into the 21st century. Billie Eilish has scored the cover of next month’s American edition of Vogue, with four different covers on newsstands, wearing Gucci, Prada, Versace and Louis Vuitton. In all four portraits, the clothes are oversized, shapeless and chin-high. For a young pop star to seize the style limelight while making her dress size invisible and irrelevant is a radical move.

Scarlett Johansson in Oscar de la Renta
Scarlett Johansson in Oscar de la Renta Photograph: Eric Gaillard/Reuters
  • Scarlett Johansson in Oscar de la Renta.

There was still plenty of red carpet va-va voom on a red carpet which rustled under feathers, sequins and sparkle. But many of the night’s standout dresses had a caustic kind of glamour, reflective of the new generation of action female roles which have helped make actors such as Scarlett Johansson into Hollywood power players. There was a Marvel-esque superhero edge to Johansson’s Óscar de la Renta dress, which had a chainmail bodice that seemed to defy the laws of gravity, and a molten silver train which she flicked like a crocodile switching its train as she turned. She posed for the banks of cameras looking over her left shoulder, the better to showcase the black rose tattooed up her spine. In caped metallic Ralph Lauren, Janelle Monáe brought the fierce hauteur of Grace Jones to her red carpet turn. Cynthia Erivo’s Versace gown had a sculpted bodice that was closer in spirit to Wonder Woman’s breastplate than to a traditional prom dress. Maya Rudolph chose a kaftan-adjacent dress entirely covered in blood-orange paillettes from Valentino’s new collection, and stood for her red carpet portraits with her hands casually in the pockets.

Janelle Monae in a metallic hooded Ralph Lauren dress
Janelle Monáe in a metallic hooded Ralph Lauren dress Photograph: John Locher/AP
British actress Cynthia Erivo in a Versace gowqn
British actress Cynthia Erivo in a Versace gown Photograph: Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images
  • Janelle Monáe in metallic Ralph Lauren, and Cynthia Erivo in Versace.

Maya Rudolph
Maya Rudolph Photograph: Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images

There was notably little mention of sustainability. One of the few exceptions was Booksmart actor Kaitlyn Dever, who took a stance in support of the Red Carpet Green Dress initiative, led by Suzy Amis Cameron. Dever wore a ruby red strapless dress custom made in line with “ethical and eco-responsible” principles by Louis Vuitton, according to the fashion house.

Kaitlyn Dever in ethical and eco-responsibble Louis Vuitton
Kaitlyn Dever in ethical and eco-responsible Louis Vuitton Photograph: Michael Buckner/REX/Shutterstock
  • Kaitlyn Dever in ethical and eco-responsible Louis Vuitton.

Among the men, black-on-black tuxedos were a trend. Parasite director Bong Joon-ho chose a black bow tie with a simple matching shirt, Al Pacino went with a shawl-collared tux and a fringed silk scarf.

Contributor

Jess Cartner-Morley

The GuardianTramp

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