Which Oscar dresses were best?

The language of style.
Feb. 26 2007 5:56 AM

Fashion Report Card

Which Oscar dresses were best?

(Continued from Page 2)

Amanda: Not especially. I didn't much like the costumes, to tell you the truth. But, as I wrote, I thought that Patricia Field, the costume designer, got them right. She had to telegraph the fashion world to a nonfashion audience, and a lot of subtly and ingeniously cut Marni and Chloe wouldn't have conveyed that.

Naomi Watts. Click image to expand.
Naomi Watts

Julia: I was rooting for The Queen. I loved the way that movie used clothes: to make the sexy Helen Mirren look dowdy and prim; to convey the frugality and thrift the queen brought to the monarchy after the war (that ratty old bathrobe!); to contrast her with the sassy and modern Cherie Blair. But back to the clothes: Did you like Naomi Watts' dress?

Amanda: I don't think it worked to have that empire waist on the same level as the off-the-shoulder sleeves. You can't have too much going on in any one area of a dress—it's too much for the eyes and mind to take in. It's like having a centerpiece and flowers and placemats and napkin holders on a table.

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Julia: Yes, the belt and sleeves seemed to be at war.

Gwyneth Paltrow. Click image to expand.
Gwyneth Paltrow

Amanda: OK, we have to talk Gwyneth. Her dress was very Art Deco, as were her earrings. She was the human Chrysler building on the one hand. And on the other she looked like she should be floating in on a seashell. But I liked that it was different. She is another actress who takes risks with her clothing. Remember the Goth outfit everyone pilloried? I actually liked that dress.

Julia: Yes! I loved the Goth dress. Well, I didn't think it worked entirely, but I loved that she was experimenting. I think that she, Cameron Diaz, and Cate Blanchett consistently look the least styled. I liked that this dress used traditional materials and methods (chiffon, accordion pleats) to produce an effect that wasn't totally retro.

Amanda: They're the Least-Styled Triumvirate: three women who consistently appear to be making their own choices about what they wear. They don't always succeed but they are always interesting. As was Catherine Deneuve. What did she have on her dress? Was that an aesthetic statement or a political one?

Catherine Deneuve. Click image to expand.
Catherine Deneuve

Julia: I assume aesthetic. That appliqué looked very flea-market and unusual—and not just asymmetrical-shoulder unusual. There was an insouciance to her look—high neckline, muted material, an item of visual interest that's meant not for the cameras, but to be seen up close—that felt very French. Or perhaps just very Catherine Deneuve. What does she have to prove to any of us about beauty or style?

Amanda: Rien! As the French would say. I think of those style manuals that suggest using some consistent element—a brooch, a scarf, a color—to develop a "signature" look. In fact, I think there is one called How To Dress Like a Frenchwoman that makes this very suggestion. Deneuve probably thinks all these Americans look way too disco. What did you think of J. Lo?

Julia: Think those were real?

Amanda: The jewels or the boobs? Her dress took the Grecian goddess look to its extreme.

Julia: It was so showy and over-the-top that I thought it worked. It's an example of a dress that was designed for TV, and for cameras.

Jennifer Lopez. Click image to expand.
Jennifer Lopez

Amanda: It was very her. But it fell just short of costume-y. She's walking a thin line. It's like showy writing that is just shy of being purple. You're right that it's camera-ready. More stars need to be aware of that. Isn't it surprising that they aren't? Wouldn't you think that would be the first rule of Oscar dressing?

Julia: In that sense it is much more like costume design than clothing design.

Amanda: Excellent point! Perhaps the stars should think of the event as theatrical and hire costume designers instead of stylists. Cate Blanchett understands the Costume Design Theory of Oscar dressing.

Julia: Gwyneth and Cameron, not so much. They're not as unerring as Blanchett, who I thought had the best look of the night.

Amanda: My favorite dress of the evening was Helen Mirren's. With Cate Blanchett as a close second. But Blanchett and Paltrow and Diaz do understand that we want them to look interesting. They follow designers and trends. They want to express their sensibilities—not a stylist's—through fashion.

Julia: Here's to that.

Amanda Fortini is a Slate contributor.

Julia Turner is the editor in chief of Slate and a regular on Slate's Culture Gabfest podcast