Lupita Nyong'o standing on the red carpet at the Oscars in a powder blue dress

Planning the perfect Oscars look with the Red Carpet Doctor

by Elizabeth Castaldo Lundén

The Oscars are awards season’s final show and the mothership that paved the way for all other awards ceremonies. Therefore, one must reserve the best look to capitalize on the build-up. But what makes an Oscars best look?

While it is true that dressing is an act of self-expression, we must also view red-carpet events as performance sites with theatrical characteristics in which actors and actresses parade as their celebrity personas, not as themselves. It is crucial to understand that critiques of their red-carpet looks are based on an expectation of their character performing a role in a specific setting. Every event has its own branding, sometimes reflecting the corporate identity of the institutions behind it.

As such, what is expected of each event slightly differs.

With the recent popularity of the Met Gala, celebrities have been tempted to push the boundaries and become more playful with their red-carpet looks. The Met Gala is a fundraising event for the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute. As such, it is expected to be artsy and avant-garde, with the celebrities becoming a walking art installation.

For the Oscars, one should strive for timeless elegance. It has been my long-time argument that if the Academy Awards are to remain in their leading position, they must reconcile with the idea of Hollywood traditions, making the event attractive by paying constant homage to the screen’s glamorous Golden Age. Understanding its brand identity is crucial for the institution and those ready to perform ‘stardom’ on Oscar night.

Dos

  • Choose a classic silhouette. Ballgown, mermaid, trumpet, empire, sheath, A-line. Look for something timeless that exudes sophistication. Reference Hollywood’s Golden Age, but add a contemporary twist. 
  • Forget about what is trendy. Choose silhouettes and shades that work best for you, enhancing your complexion and features so that you are the protagonist, not the dress. Understanding that the outfit should look good on you and on camera is essential. Do a camera test before you decide. After all, it is also your photo-op.
  • Choose vintage. It will work for the brand’s exposure while being a conversation starter about sustainability and brand heritage.
  • Dare to wear color. Think outside the box and find a color and shade that works in your favor and stands out. Black is a safe bet that most will choose, beige can be tricky, and white rarely photographs well. 
  • Tailor your outfit. If your outfit was not made to measure, adjust it to look like it was. Pay special attention to how it fits, especially on your shoulders, bust, arms, waist, and length. The length of a dress gives away which outfits have been tailored and which are off-the-rack. If the brand is unwilling to do alterations, it may be time to change that contract.
  • Accessorize thoughtfully. Put as much effort into picking the shoes and accessories as you put into the dress. It is about the overall look. A cluttered look or the wrong shoes jeopardize the outfit’s elegance. Contractual arrangements may lead celebrities on the wrong path. 
  • For men: Good luck balancing innovation and sophistication. Go for classic suits or tuxedos. You can innovate in color or accentuate details for a more traditional yet original look. 

Donts

  • Don’t wear overly revealing outfits, minis, or shorts: While this trend proliferated on some red carpets, it just breaks the illusion of timeless Hollywood glamour at the Oscars. Choose elegance to celebrate tradition. There are plenty of other red-carpet events with different branding in which these looks will play well.
  • Don’t mismatch colors: Be cautious with color combinations. Ensure that the colors of your outfits, accessories, and makeup harmonize well. 
  • Don’t burn your best look on a previous red-carpet event: Build momentum. Save the best for the Oscars to finish on a high note.
  • Don’t wear stripes or heavily patterned fabrics: Avoid heavy patterns unless you are an expert with undisputable taste. It is so easy to go wrong. Stripes do not belong anywhere near a camera. They rarely photograph well.
  • For men:  Don’t cut your silhouette in half by choosing pants and jackets with different patterns or colors. At the risk of sounding like Mr. Blackwell, please avoid looking like you are wearing your grandmother’s old couch.

Bonus tip:

  • Back in the days of the Studio System, Hollywood actresses wore costumes from their films to the Academy Awards. It may be a good time to bring that tradition back and celebrate the outstanding work of costume designers. After all, they know what looks good on camera better than anyone.

To illustrate some of these points, I picked six dresses from the 2014 ceremony, precisely a decade ago. Two are pretty dresses that did not live up to their full potential. Two are approved, as in what one would expect for the Oscars. Two of them stand out as exceptionally memorable choices.

Missed the mark

Julia Roberts
Credit:  THE OSCARS(r) – RED CARPET ARRIVALS – The Academy Awards(r) for outstanding film achievements of 2013 will be presented on Oscar Sunday, MARCH 2 (8:00-11:00 p.m., ET/5:00-8:00 p.m., PT), at the Dolby Theatre(r) at Hollywood & Highland Center(r) and televised live on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Rick Rowell)
JULIA ROBERTS

Julia Roberts in this lace Givenchy couture gown did not stand out. The dress combines structure and texture, but the details are lost in the pictures. Black was not the best choice for the camera or for Roberts.

Sarah Paulson
Credit: THE OSCARS(r) – RED CARPET ARRIVALS – The Academy Awards(r) for outstanding film achievements of 2013 will be presented on Oscar Sunday, MARCH 2 (8:00-11:00 p.m., ET/5:00-8:00 p.m., PT), at the Dolby Theatre(r) at Hollywood & Highland Center(r) and televised live on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Rick Rowell)
SARAH PAULSON

Sarah Paulson wore a beaded Elie Saab dress that could have been a better choice. The color did not suit her, the dress needed to be fitted and it did not photograph well despite the number of details it had.

Approved

Charlize Theron
Credit: THE OSCARS(r) – RED CARPET ARRIVALS – The Academy Awards(r) for outstanding film achievements of 2013 will be presented on Oscar Sunday, MARCH 2 (8:00-11:00 p.m., ET/5:00-8:00 p.m., PT), at the Dolby Theatre(r) at Hollywood & Highland Center(r) and televised live on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Rick Rowell) CHARLIZE THERON

Charlize Theron is an ambassador for Dior. Here, she is wearing a Dior Haute Couture dress with perfect structure and texture, playing it safe with black and having enough details to stand out. 

Jennifer Lawrence
Credit: THE OSCARS(r) – RED CARPET ARRIVALS – The Academy Awards(r) for outstanding film achievements of 2013 will be presented on Oscar Sunday, MARCH 2 (8:00-11:00 p.m., ET/5:00-8:00 p.m., PT), at the Dolby Theatre(r) at Hollywood & Highland Center(r) and televised live on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Rick Rowell)
JENNIFER LAWRENCE

Jennifer Lawrence was also a Dior ambassador when she wore this simple, strapless mermaid dress. It does not have many details, but the bright color helps the structure to be the protagonist, which was a missed mark in Roberts’ dress. While I do not particularly enjoy red dresses on the red carpet, this one captures the ceremony’s essence.

Excelled

Karen O
Singer Karen O wearing a black gown poses on the red carpet
Credit: THE OSCARS(r) – RED CARPET ARRIVALS – The Academy Awards(r) for outstanding film achievements of 2013 will be presented on Oscar Sunday, MARCH 2 (8:00-11:00 p.m., ET/5:00-8:00 p.m., PT), at the Dolby Theatre(r) at Hollywood & Highland Center(r) and televised live on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Rick Rowell)
KAREN O

Singer Karen O, wearing a black gown by Danish designer Camilla Staerk, is a perfect example of how to stand out at the Oscars. The dress is a nod to old Hollywood glamour with a contemporary license in the cleavage. While scandalous in the past, this twist gives a modern touch linking past and present.

Lupita Nyong’o
Actress Lupita Nyong’o’s Prada posing on the red carpet in a powder blue dress
Credit: THE OSCARS(r) – RED CARPET ARRIVALS – The Academy Awards(r) for outstanding film achievements of 2013 will be presented on Oscar Sunday, MARCH 2 (8:00-11:00 p.m., ET/5:00-8:00 p.m., PT), at the Dolby Theatre(r) at Hollywood & Highland Center(r) and televised live on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Rick Rowell) LUPITA NYONG’O

Lupita Nyong’o’s Prada powder blue dress is one of my favorite moments in Oscars history. It is another example of a perfect choice. The dress is simple on the top yet majestic in motion with the layered pleated chiffon skirt. The color is exquisite, fits her perfectly, and photographs so well on the red carpet, and it does not get lost against the background. Many people did not know her when she stepped onto the red carpet, but she became an IT girl overnight.


All images appear under creative commons licence CC BY-ND 2.0 DEED  Attribution – NoDerivs 2.0 Generic2


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About the author

Elizabeth Castaldo Lundén is a Fulbright Scholar and Sweden America Foundation Research Fellow at the School of Cinematic Arts of the University of Southern California


Edinburgh University Press
Edinburgh University Press
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