Julia: Hello, Amanda. Thanks for letting me enlist you— Slate fashion writer and astute sartorial critic—to dissect the night's frocks. (And tuxes.) Award-fashion criticism is ubiquitous these days, but (as I noted in this piece) something seems to be amiss on the red carpet. Us Weekly's snippily dim Fashion Police, the certifiable Joan Rivers, the delightful Go Fug Yourself girls—all profess to be on the hunt for great style. But as celebrity dresses attract more scrutiny, stars' fashion choices seem increasingly blah.
Amanda: Hi, Julia. There is a sameness to Oscar dresses. It's the stylist problem—most of the actresses hire them. No one wants to end up on the worst-dressed list. Commentators (particularly the television sort) do not suffer risk-taking gladly.
Julia: Perhaps we should judge celebrity fashion the way they judge diving or gymnastics: with one score for execution, and another for degree of difficulty. Tonight Kate Winslet, for example, would have done well on the former scale, but not the latter.
Amanda: She looked beautiful, but after the Golden Globes I felt weary of all the Grecian-goddess dresses—the sashes, the draping, the bias cuts. I usually love the simplicity and elegance of dresses like these, but there was such a proliferation of them. Tom Ford supposedly once said that the goddess look for women is like the blue blazer for men. After this awards season, I agree with him.
Julia: What saves it is the color—that green is very unusual.
Amanda: Sea-foam? Mint-chocolate chip? In any case, daring.
Julia: Did you see Nicole Kidman's monstrosity?
Amanda: The bow! I didn't like it. And it's even worse that the dress was in red—she looked like a Christmas present. I also wasn't a fan of Anne Hathaway's bow; it was matronly.
Julia: What did you think of Penélope Cruz's dress?
Amanda: I like that she wore something that had some volume at the bottom. I liked the blush color on her olive skin. I like that she kept the jewelry simple. And I'm glad it wasn't Grecian.
Julia: But the texture of Cruz's skirt looked like Snuffleupagus' coat! Of course, perhaps it's hypocritical to complain about the sameness of Oscar dresses and then step on unexpected twists like Cruz's skirt or Nicole Kidman's bow.
Amanda: But I think it's possible to look different without choosing a bow that looks like it has its own heartbeat. Take Helen Mirren. What a gorgeous dress. She knows how to dress for her body. The ruched, nipped-in waist, the décolleté chest—she looked ravishing.
Julia: I loved the shape. Didn't love the color.
Amanda: I do like nude tones. For dresses, that is, not red-carpet makeup. Nude is certainly the color of the moment, no?
Julia: I think flesh-toned dresses have been around for a few years now. It's an interesting choice because they don't seem designed for the camera.
Amanda: They have been around: Naomi Watts wore one last year. Gwyneth Paltrow wore a pale Stella McCartney gown to the Golden Globes. And these dresses are not telegenic at all—they wash people out. But I think I'd like them in person. I suppose I'm making that allowance in my mind. What did you think of Maggie Gyllenhaal? I love blue and black together; it's an unexpected combo, and it almost always works.
Julia: What did she have in her hair? The Fug girls are always ragging on her for not having "done" hair, but I like that she usually looks as though she's done it herself. Was she wearing feathers, though?
Amanda: I couldn't tell. I don't mind undone hair at all. But there's a line. And I draw it at Cameron Diaz.
Julia: I love blue and black—that's what Portia de Rossi was wearing too, and Reese Witherspoon's purple-and-black gown had a similar feel. Like several women tonight—Kate Winslet, Cate Blanchett—Ms. Gyllenhaal was wearing a one-shouldered number.
Amanda: I think she wore it well. The bust fit, the sash wasn't gaping or bagging. Do you think asymmetrical dresses like these play well on television?
Julia: I have a theory about the asymmetrical dress: It's a way of playing it safe that doesn't seem too safe. It's shorthand for "interesting," "high-fashion," "offbeat." When in fact it's just as conservative as a strapless sheath.
Amanda: It's the fashion equivalent of bungee jumping, as opposed to sky diving? I think there's truth to your theory. Now, Cate Blanchett's asymmetry was an asymmetry that worked.
Julia: She looked smashing. That dress looked painted-on and yet still classy. She would look classy in a Hooters waitress uniform.