What we all watch the Oscars for: the outfits
The 2021 Oscars aired on Sunday March 25th. They were the climax of a strange and socially distant awards season which provided many memorable moments and even more memorable looks.
The Academy Awards, the ultimate and most prestigious film awards ceremony, raised the bar of previous shows this year by having a mostly in-person ceremony. The production was a marked difference to the Zoom Golden Globes, which was replete with technical difficulties and reminders of the pandemic, and the al fresco Grammy Awards, which was held socially distanced, outside, and was actually a surprisingly good show.
However, the Oscars did their best to make the show feel as normal as possible (though it had its share of strange moments). With all attendees Covid tested beforehand, and many of them ostensibly vaccinated (celebrity status must have been a qualifying comorbidity in Los Angeles), the show remarkably resembled pre-pandemic life.
There were some changes made to follow COVID regulations: a smaller red carpet with less press, no presenter, and no infamous Oscar party. The guidelines did make some concessions, treating the show like a "film production" and therefore asking guests not to wear their masks while onscreen — though some, like Frances Mcdormand, were not willing to take the risk for the Academy.
"oscar attendees will not wear face masks during telecast" frances mcdormand: https://t.co/8nkNPYAKTD— . (@.)1619399560.0
The Oscars also had a dress code, which essentially encouraged the guests to actually dress up. The lax award season garb we were subjected to (in the tired case of Jason Sudeikis and his hoodie) and delighted by (in the case of Bill Murray's printed shirts) in 2021 were pretty much disavowed by the Academy, who urged guests to dress their best.
The show was produced by Steven Soderbergh, Stacey Sher, and Jesse Collins, who were determined to capture its notorious glamour. The dress code said the show would be "a fusion of Inspirational and Aspirational, which in actual words means formal is totally cool if you want to go there, but casual is really not."
At the Academy's behest, dress up they did — thrilling us the way only the sight of our favorite beautiful, rich people parading around looking beautiful and rich can thrill us. There are moments from this year's ceremony that we'll be thinking about forever: the charming exchange between Brad Pitt and Best Supporting Actress Winner Yuh-Jung Youn of Minari (just as we thought we'd recovered from last year's Brad Pitt congeniality tour and when we thought we couldn't love the Minari cast more), Daniel Kaluuya's acceptance speech, and Daniel Kaluuya's mother's reaction to his acceptance speech.
The actual awards portion of the night also provided a lot of opportunities for #OscarsSoWhite revivals — namely the giant upset over Chadwick Boseman's snub — despite some other historic wins for marginalized communities.
But Awards Season is nothing without the important stuff: the outfits. Often, Oscars looks become cemented in history — Lupita Nyong'o's Cinderella-esque blue gown in 2014, Angelina Jolie's right leg slit in 2012, Gwenyth Paltrow's giant pink dress in 1999, (the dress: gorgeous, the Oscar: haunts me) and arguably the most iconic look of all time, Diahann Carroll's magical gown in 1969.
After a year of cancelled press tours, at-home interviews, and little reason to dress up, the guests of the Academy Awards created looks that will surely be embedded in the cultural lexicon for years to come. Here are some of the most memorable:
Zendaya, Of Course, in Valentino
Who would we be if we didn't start the list off with Zendaya herself, who has never, not once, missed with her red carpet outfit choices, and delivered the exact kind of seemingly effortless glamor that we needed?In a stunning yellow Valentino Haute Couture gown, Zendaya's was one of the night's most standout looks. The unique cut-out dress was picked by her stylist, Law Roach, who also designed her iconic cut-out dress from Malcolm and Marie. If this is a trend we're going to be seeing on Zendaya in the future, we're already begging for more.
Daniel Kaluuya in Bottega and Pearl-Sized Cartier Diamonds
Daniel Kaluuya, the product of his parents
Daniel Kaluuya, who won the award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah, gave us one of the most memorable moments of the night during his acceptance speech, in which he marvelled about the process of his conception — but at least he wasn't muted, like he was at the Golden Globes.
The Academy Award winner was also among the best dressed in a polished Bottega Veneta suit complete with the best accessories of the night: a Cartier chain made of pearl-sized diamonds. Sorry Harry Styles, previous king of men-in-pearls, it's all about the oversized diamonds.
Lakeith Stanfield in Saint Laurent
Fellow Judas and the Black Messiah star and Best Supporting Actor nominee Lakeith Stanfield also raised the bar for menswear in his custom jumpsuit by Anthony Vaccarello for Saint Laurent. The vintage-inspired look channeled the era of the film with its 60s style-fit and bold lapels.
Colman Domingo in Versace
Another menswear standout was Colman Domingo in all pink. One of the stars of the award-winning Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, the actor made a bold sartorial statement in his custom Versace suit. As if the hot pink suit wasn't eye catching enough, it was adorned with 4,500 hand embroidered Swarovski crystals and sequins on the jacket and shirt. According to his Instagram post, the intricate embroidery took over 150 hours.
Chloé Zhao in Sneakers
Oh to have bright white sneakers again
On the more casual end of the Oscar's dress code recommendation, Chloe Zhao — whose award season outfits thus far have mostly consisted of t-shirts paired with a mug of tea — wore a neutral toned Hermès gown. More strikingly, she paired the look with bright white Hermès sneakers, making the rest of us consider the state of our own scuffed up "white" sneakers … but not enough to spend the $810 they cost, unfortunately.
Aside from looking impossibly cool, Chloe Zhao also finished up her winning streak with the Best Director Award, making her the first woman of color to ever win the most prestigious category of the night.
Alan Kim in Thom Browne
The hair! The socks! The pose!
Someone tell Lil Uzi Vert that he is no longer the king of Thom Browne. Though the rapper is famous for his appearance in Thom Browne campaigns — like the Thanksgiving Football photoshoot where he appeared in one of their kilts and made headlines for playful gender expression — Alan Kim was undoubtedly one of the best dressed on the carpet in his Thom Browne suit.
The Minari star wore the brand's signature shorts and three-striped sock, evoking a preppy and sporty look that was adorable on the child star — who has consistently been the highlight of this awards season.
Thom Brown talked about how dressing Kim was all about highlighting his personality, saying: "I wanted Alan's personality to shine… I wanted his clothing to be timeless. And, of course, for the Academy Awards Alan had to be in black tie."
The overall look was the perfect combination of youthful and polished, and clearly the New York designer was the perfect fit to bring out the playfulness of the nine-year old rising talent.
Carey Mulligan and Amanda Seyfried in Giant Gowns
Carey Mulligan in Valentino
Without the Met Gala in 2020, the past year has been devoid of elaborate gowns with even more elaborate trains. And since we will have to wait until September for the 2021 Met Gala, the theme of which was recently announced to be American Fashion, Carey Mulligan and Amanda Seyfried brought big gowns with big skirts from classic, European designers to the Oscars instead.
Big skirts were in this year, but the two actresses wore some of the most memorable. Was it an effort to socially distance? Was it a commentary on our collective year spent in sweatpants? Either way, the giant skirts on their gowns made soon-to-be iconic statements on the red carpet.
Carey Mulligan looked like she was dressing for the award she wanted in a metallic gold Valentino dress, and although she lost the Best Actress statuette she was nominated for as the lead in Promising Young Woman to Frances McDormand for Nomadland, her showstopping look was one of the most talked about of the night.
Seyfried wore in a bold red Armani gown. The actress was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Marion Davies in David Fincher's Mank, and her look was also one of the standouts of the night.
Angela Bassett in Alberta Ferretti
Also in bold, bright red, Angela Bassett gave exactly the energy you would expect from the literal queen in her Alberta Ferretti gown. The bold, bow-like sleeves were one of the most creative details of the night — not to mention also probably good for social distancing.
HER in Peter Dundas
Paying homage to Prince in all purple, HER, the multi-instrumentalist singer and musical prodigy, wowed in a violet Peter Dundas jumpsuit. Inspired by the 1985 Oscar look worn by the late, great music icon, the look was part jumpsuit, part cape and made with delicate embroidery and sequin details. She, of course, paired it with her signature tinted glasses in a purple hue.
Regina King in Louis Vuitton
It's been a big year for Regina King, who has been serving us incredible looks all season, even for the Zoom telecasts. The Oscars finally gave us the opportunity to witness the full glamor of her intricate, incredible looks, and we were not disappointed.
A standout on a big night for hand embroidered jewels, Regina King looked like a fairy godmother or some other ethereal being in her custom blue gown by Nicholas Guesquiere of Louis Vuitton. With winged shoulders, a plunging V-neck and delicately encrusted stripes, the dress is full of detail without feeling over the top.
The night's showings prove that Fashion is Back, per Vogue's declaration on its May 2021 cover, which featured Amanda Gorman. And though the ceremony left a lot to be desired, the pleasures we got from some of the night's standout looks will hopefully carry us through to the September Met Ball.
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