From ‘La La Land’ technicolor to deepening hues, A-listers’ gowns — as exemplified by awards frontrunner Emma Stone — are shifting to suit today’s contentious climate with more somber colors on the red carpet.
The political battle lines of our wardrobes have been drawn: #MakeAmericaGreatAgain cap versus pink pussy hat; pendulous necktie versus power pantsuit; Donald Trump versus Nordstrom. Now more than ever, you are what you wear. Which begs the question, as Hollywood gets ready to walk the most rarefied of red carpets on Oscar Sunday, what will it wear? Can you seriously take to the podium and plead to “Let them in” or remember that “America is for everyone” while dressed like a sparkle parrot in priceless haute couture? And if you do, do you risk the Marie Antoinette comparisons that befell Ivanka Trump when she posted a shot of herself on Instagram dressed in a silver-foiled gown while protesters stormed the streets over her father's travel ban?
Maybe that's why there has been more gravitas to red-carpet glamour in recent weeks. Oscar best actress nominee Emma Stone, who kicked off awards season in sunny yellow as her La La Land signature, has embraced a new sartorial seriousness, wearing a Chanel black-and-silver embroidered dress-and-pants ensemble to Feb. 12's BAFTA Awards, a Stella McCartney silk dress for the Santa Barbara Film Festival on Feb. 3, a black beaded Louis Vuitton gown for Feb. 4's DGA Awards and a navy Stella McCartney jumpsuit for the Academy's Nominees Luncheon on Feb. 6. Stone's fade to black happens to mirror her character's transformation in the film, from color-clad Hollywood wannabe to serious actress, but it also feels right for the moment. “The spotlight has shifted from 'Who are you wearing' to 'What are you saying,' ” says stylist Tanya Gill, whose client Jane Fonda has made her share of political fashion statements since she made news with protests against the Vietnam War in the 1960s. “It's definitely a conversation that's come up, even with my male clients,” says stylist Ilaria Urbinati, who works with best director nominee (for La La Land) Damien Chazelle and Manchester by the Sea best actor nominee Casey Affleck. “In fittings, clients have asked if they should be dressing less showy and in darker colors because of everything that's happening politically. But personally, I think the two things are separate.”
At recent Hollywood events, there've been precious few princess gowns and fewer mermaid silhouettes. Even glamour puss Sofia Vergara has sobered up her style, trading her usual va-va-voom Jessica Rabbit gowns for a tasteful Zuhair Murad tea dress at the SAG Awards.
When it comes to the finer political points of cabinet posts and Bathrobe Gate, stars are plenty vocal on social media, but on the red carpet, it can be tricky to dress to express an opinion. At the SAG Awards, which fell the day after Trump's immigration ban went into effect, “it was really difficult to feel good about dressing up,” says Busy Philipps, who considered scrawling “No Ban, No Wall” on a T-shirt and calling it a day. At the ceremony, Big Bang Theory star Simon Helberg and his wife, Jocelyn Towne, did use themselves as canvases for such messages as “Let them in” and “Refugees welcome.”
There have been more pantsuits and tuxedos on women than ever this awards season (not to mention at New York Fashion Week, which just closed Feb. 16). Octavia Spencer, best supporting actress nominee for Hidden Figures, chose a black peplum tuxedo for the Feb. 11 NAACP Image Awards and a midnight blue Laura Boschi tuxedo for the Golden Globes. Westworld's Evan Rachel Wood had a different custom Altuzarra style for each of her red-carpet appearances. “I want to make sure young girls and women know [dresses] aren't a requirement,” she said at the Golden Globes.
Says stylist Penny Lovell, whose client Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Fargo) was adamant about wearing a Pussy Power protest pin on her Christian Louboutin clutch bag at Feb. 4's DGA Awards: “There's been an uprising of strength in women. There's more freedom to express yourself if you do want to make a statement.”
Being true to oneself may be the best approach to dressing for the new politicized normal. “Be sensitive to it but don't overthink it,” advises Urbinati. “It's almost more obnoxious to think the world cares that much about what you're wearing.”
This story first appeared in the Feb. 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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