Film Forum

Oscar fashion: How to win on the red carpet

Audrey Hepburn’s “Lucky Dress” has set the standard for Oscar fashion for decades. (from Art Info)


By Olga Verkhotina

When it comes to the annual Academy Awards ceremony, “Who wore what?” is often just as important a question as “Who won?”

Celebrities plan their red-carpet outfits far in advance, and some make the whole production into a promotional move. Even though playing it safe with a classic black gown might look classy and keep a celebrity off the worst-dressed list, a conservative choice can also keep them out of the spotlight.

From year to year, it’s hard to predict what choice will be the right choice. Some risks work, and some don’t. As Filmworks prepares to host this year’s Oscar-Nominated Short Films in February, here’s a look at some make-it-or-break-it Oscar fashion moments.

Froth and lace

One of the all-time Oscar fashion successes is the “Lucky Dress.” Audrey Hepburn wore the full-skirted, lace ivory garment while accepting her Best Actress statue at the 1954 Academy Awards. According to the U.K. edition of Vogue magazine, the dress had a value of more than £40,000 in British pounds – equivalent to about $63,000 in U.S. dollars – even nearly six decades after the ceremony.

But not all lace is the same. Madonna’s not-so-Academy-appropriate outfit in 2011 made it look like she was trying too hard to break the rules, and it probably would have shocked the elegant Hepburn if she were there.

Color pop

Simplicity has been the ultimate guide to red-carpet success. A solid-colored dress with an interesting detail can be enough to get someone remembered as a style icon.

Whether it’s the navy blue of Hilary Swank, the light yellow of Renee Zellweger, or even the blood red of Anne Hathaway, the dresses look simple at first glance, but yet they’re sophisticated and tasteful.

However, picking a solid color does not mean that any color will work. In one example, Taraji P. Henson’s oddly hued tangerine madness was too strange to handle in 2005. Some dress colors are best suited for a prom, not the Oscars.

Careless chic

So what, if the Academy Awards come just once a year? Sharon Stone borrowed her husband’s $25 GAP button-down shirt for the 1998 Oscars like it wasn’t a big deal. She mixed it with a silk Vera Wang skirt. Despite the risky casual element, Stone looked fresh and elegant, competing on the same level with thousands-of-dollar gowns.

But there is only so much you can do with casual to pull it off. Demi Moore loved the idea of comfort but her Spandex-inspired look didn’t have too many fans. Most of us don’t dare to wear gym clothes to work, so why did Moore think she might be different?

Bring the bling

Oscar time can definitely be the right time for flashy and elaborate.

Sandra Bullock, who won Best Actress in 2010, made a fashion statement in her silver-beaded Marchesa dress. With such a complicated dress, it would have been easy to make the look tacky, but Bullock played it safe by keeping her hair and other accessories simple.

Cher, on the other hand, misunderstood the phrase “less is more.” Her black see-through gown in 1988 sure shined – but not in a good way.

So, whose strategy will work this year? Will it be classic or avant-garde? Let’s mark our ballots.

Olga Verkhotina is the Filmworks media relations and communication intern. She studies journalism at Fresno City College.

Every second Friday of the month, Fresno Filmworks screens first-run independent and international movies at the historic Tower Theatre.