Amanda: Stunning. I loved all the visual interest—the beading—at the bottom. She could make those orange shorts look regal. What about Jessica Biel? The commentators seemed to think her great butt gives her sartorial carte blanche. But I didn't like the color of her dress. Nor the belt. What did you think?
Julia: I liked it. That color looks great on camera. It fit well, and I also liked how it played against type. Biel has the air of a floozy, and so it was appealing to see her channel Audrey Hepburn with that silhouette. What did you think of Rachel Weisz?
Amanda: Another bow! This time bejeweled. Was there a bow that worked?
Julia: I didn't see one.
Amanda: I think the jewelry was the biggest mistake there. What was that on her neck? A pineapple? A scorpion? A good rule of thumb: If your dress is bejeweled you shouldn't add more jewelry. She should have followed the Diana Vreeland theory of dressing and removed one thing before she left the house.
Julia: It must be so tempting to wear it all.
Amanda: I know! If someone offered me a 10-carat necklace I might just have to wear it, jeweled dress be damned. Let's talk about the men for a minute. When did we start seeing long-tied "tuxes"?
Julia: My mom just called and declared the bow-tie dead. She misses it.
Amanda: The bow-tie is already worn so infrequently. Why do away with it? The long black ties remind me of the ties junior high boys wore in the '80s, along with Girbaud pants and a big splash of Drakkar Noir.
Julia: I suppose men feel stuffy in bow ties. I'm not a fan of the shiny long black ties, but Gael Garcia Bernal had a very trim suit and skinny tie that looked mod and stylish.
Amanda: Still, why not be stuffy one night a year?
Julia: What did you think of Cameron Diaz's dress?
Amanda: Much better than the Valentino she wore to the Golden Globes—I thought she looked scary, like Miss Havisham. I liked the way this one was cut at the collar. But I do think the bottom needed a straighter hem.
Julia: Yes, exactly. The hem was very coquetteish and swannish and glam, and the neck was more severe.
Amanda: The neck was more edgy and '80s. It was like she sewed together the top and bottom halves of two different dresses.
Julia: Still, there was an experimental quality about it that I admire.
Amanda: Yes, the best-dressed to me generally means the wearer has taken some risk.
Julia: When I wrote that piece on how Oscar fashion got so boring, I discovered that there really was no red-carpet culture until the early '90s, when designers began vying for stars' attention. Then the critics and stylists piled on, and now there is hell to pay for a single misstep, so people don't take as many risks.
Amanda: You're right about the evolution of red-carpet culture. In the '60s, Julie Christie wore a gold-lame pantsuit. Can you remember anyone in the last 10 years wearing pants?
Julia: It is amazing how the Oscars have changed. It used to be that people would practice what they'd say; now they imagine what they'd wear.
Amanda: It's true that the dress has trumped the speech as the pièce de résistance of the evening. But don't you think—and I know it's hard to remember, because we were just kids—the speeches, too, used to seem less practiced? Both the clothes and the speeches seem much more conservative and formal. One might say that the artifice of the event has become more important. I read, for instance, that when Julie Andrews accepted the best director award for Robert Wise, Shirley MacLaine said to her, as she arrived at the podium, "Great dress—I love your dress!" No one would ever say that now. Even though we all know that's what's it all about.
Julia: I wish they would!
Amanda: What did you make of the award for best costume design?