It would be an overstatement to say that the Academy Awards has moved beyond sweeping gowns and black tuxedos; there were plenty of those streaming into the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles on Sunday night. But at this year’s Oscars – a ceremony that came with an onstage altercation between Best Actor winner Will Smith and presenter Chris Rock – several attendees brought the sartorial drama in eye-catching looks that challenged audience expectations. Hot pants, crop tops, and bare chests under tuxedo jackets spoke to a keen interest in moving beyond expectations of red carpet formalwear.
Leading the less-fabric-is-more contingent was Dune star Timothée Chalamet, who turned up in a glittering black lace tuxedo jacket and trim black pants from Louis Vuitton’s spring 2022 womenswear collection. Instead of a shirt, a long Cartier necklace with a geometric panther pendant dangled against his sternum.
Kristen Stewart, a Best Actress nominee for her performance in Spencer, followed a similar playbook in a Chanel tuxedo jacket and a white blouse unbuttoned all the way to the top of her black short-shorts. (In a relatable move, at some point she swapped her stilettos for loafers and white socks.) Though hot pants made for a bold look at the Oscars, it was on-brand for Stewart, a Chanel ambassador with a well-established taste for red carpet shorts and suiting worn with bras and crop tops.
Ariana DeBose, Best Supporting Actress winner for West Side Story, opted for a vivid red crop top and high-waisted trousers by Valentino, worn with a sweeping cape that created a train-like effect. Glamorous and yet utterly modern, it drove home a major message of the night: the stars are giving us the Hollywood magic, but they’re doing it their own way.
Of course, the Oscars red carpet isn’t just about self-expression. It’s a major marketing opportunity for fashion brands – especially true in the age of Instagram, when a social media post can attract more eyeballs than an advertisement in Vogue. Designers invest accordingly: when a celebrity wears a bespoke look to the Academy Awards, the brand often covers the cost of that outfit in its entirety, says stylist Christina Pacelli, who dressed actress and E! host Laverne Cox in custom August Getty Atelier for this year’s awards. On top of that, actors often get paid to wear a brand’s clothing via endorsement deals, which may have exclusivity terms stipulating that they wear the label to a certain number or type of public appearances. “It’s a mutually beneficial relationship,” Pacelli told me.
Zendaya, Chalamet’s Dune co-star, also went the way of skin-baring separates in a sparkling silver Valentino skirt paired with a white silk button-down that ended abruptly at the ribcage. It read as a daring update on Sharon Stone’s iconic look at the 1998 Oscars, to which the actress wore a crisp white Gap shirt – the sleeves rolled up and the collar casually popped – with an icy lavender Vera Wang skirt. Zendaya wasn’t the only one to evoke Stone on Sunday night: Uma Thurman presented a chic, conservative version of the look in a white shirt buttoned to the throat and a long black skirt, all by Bottega Veneta. (This combination also afforded Thurman a self-referential moment when, while presenting the award for Best Actor with her Pulp Fiction co-stars Samuel L Jackson and John Travolta, she and Travolta briefly recreated the dance scene from that film, in which her character wears a white button-down and black trousers.)
At last year’s Academy Awards, some of the most memorable and unconventional red carpet looks came from the menswear corner, and that trend continued. Best Supporting Actor nominee Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Power of the Dog) wore a pale blue Bottega Veneta suit with odd, elegantly exaggerated proportions – his narrowly cut, double-breasted jacket had both a high waist and a long hem – finishing off the look with chunky blue shoes and Cartier diamonds. Presenter Simu Liu, the star of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, went for a scarlet Versace suit, cleanly offset with a white shirt and black bow tie. (For the Vanity Fair after-party, he followed Chalamet’s lead and ditched the shirt.) Two strong bids for burgundy came from Best Actor nominee Andrew Garfield (tick, tick. . . TREE!), in a wine-colored velvet Saint Laurent jacket with a silky black bow knotted at his throat, and presents Wesley Snipes, who wore a maroon Givenchy suit jacket, shorts, and leggings.
In recent years, the Oscars red carpet has gone in an activist direction, with past attendees wearing “Time’s Up” pins in support of the #MeToo movement. This year, showgoers wore their support for Ukraine in quiet but noticeable ways, in the form of yellow and blue ribbons (Tyler Perry), pins (Benedict Cumberbatch), pocket squares (Jason Momoa), and blue ribbons printed with the words “# WithRefugees ”(Pedro Almodóvar, Jamie Lee Curtis, Youn Yuh-jung).
Were there gowns? Of course there were gowns. Lest they be overshadowed by Chalamet and Stewart’s rakish, undone take on Oscars dressing, certain actresses brought the glamor in enormous trains and head-to-toe sequins. Jada Pinkett Smith appeared to be materializing out of a billowing emerald cloud in a long-sleeved gown from Jean Paul Gaultier’s spring 2022 couture collection. Jessica Chastain, Best Actress winner for The Eyes of Tammy Faye, evoked a Los Angeles sunset in a sequinned Gucci dress that faded from copper to lilac. (It ended in an enormous ruffled hem that likely pulled double duty as a Swiffer throughout the night.) Lupita Nyong’o looked like a blazing Prada comet in a fringed gold dress that was further embellished with amethyst and topaz crystals.
But the most delightful bit of flair, in my opinion, was the fluffy black-and-white feathered hat that Rita Moreno wore with her Carolina Herrera dress. As she told Laverne Cox, who hosted E!’S red carpet coverage, “I just thought, what the hell!” It was a perfect sentiment for a night dotted with outfits that bucked Oscars convention. For Hollywood legends and rising stars alike: why not wear what you want?
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