Oscar Fashion Report Card
Why so many black dresses? And which ones were best?
Posted Monday, Feb. 25, 2008, at 4:50 AM
Julia: I think a black dress works best on TV when its dominant feature is its cut, not its frippery.
Amanda: Right, because you can't see the frippery on-screen. I liked Laura Linney's black dress for that reason; it had a simple, severe cut.
Julia: On Kidman's dress, the crisscross satin neckline, Empire sash, and perfect fit across her slightly pregnant belly were subtle but beautifully done. What I really liked about that look, though, was the diamonds. In fact, Nicole Kidman caused me to have a revelation about Oscar jewels tonight.
Julia: So often, the rented gems look like breastplates; stiff, segmented armaments sitting aggressively on the clavicle. But Nicole was dripping with diamonds, as the song goes. There were gads of them, but she looked totally comfortable in them, and I liked how they moved on her.
Amanda: Nicole's jewels were something to behold. I did like that they moved, but I wished she'd arranged them before she got up to present. That they were falling all over the place was distracting to me. I guess I think Oscar outfits should be less about fluidity and movement—qualities you would want in any get-up you'd wear in the real world—and more about creating a static, iconic fashion moment.
Julia: I can see that. In general, do you think the black looks worked?
Amanda: I love a good black dress as much as the next woman, but I don't think they're an ideal choice for the Oscars, do you? They're too dark, and if there's any detail on them, you just can't see what's going on. Actually, I can't say I loved any of the black dresses. I did really like Amy Ryan's navy blue one-shouldered number. I love navy for evening wear. It's usually such a buttoned-up color, the color of sports jackets and suits, and so I like it on a gown for a festive occasion.
Julia: Amy Ryan looked amazing! She was channeling early-'90s Jodie Foster. She was also utterly charming on the red carpet explaining how thrilled she was even to be at the Oscars, and in the theater reacting with glee and pride to seeing the clip of her performance in Gone Baby Gone. Between Ryan, George Clooney's cocktail-waitress girlfriend Sarah Larson, and Steve Carrell's wife, comedienne Nancy Walls, the red carpet was full of "normal girls gone to the Oscars," which added a fun element of fantasy. They all took different approaches, of course. The Clooney girlfriend look was terrible; it seemed to have been stitched from an iridescent Barbie shower curtain.
Amanda: Amy Adams has a regular-girl air, too. And Patrick Dempsey was there with his wife. There was no Gwyneth or Angelina or Julia or Reese.
Julia: The plebes were storming the red carpet.
Amanda: Actually, I liked the looks of both Amys, Ryan and Adams. I had a similar reaction to the color of Amy Adams' dress as I did to Amy Ryan's—I think hunter green on an evening gown is unexpected, an interesting counterpoint. I also liked the slim belts on both dresses.
Julia: And both looks point up the move toward bold, dark colors. Thank God we're done with nudes and blushes and champagnes and creams. With a darker color you can pay more attention to the silhouette. The best red dress of the night was Anne Hathaway's, I thought, primarily because it was the best red of the night: The color itself had a little blue in it and was really deep and rich and rose-petally. Katherine Heigl's red seemed a bit brassy by comparison.
Amanda: Down with the nudes and blushes! I liked Anne Hathaway's dress, but it seemed a little old for her. She's young and lovely; why doesn't she have more fun? I actually liked Heigl's dress. I thought the ruching and the peekaboo cutout on the shoulder were interesting, and it fit her beautifully. She also had a normal-girl-goes-to-the-Oscars air about her. She was charmingly nervous.
Julia: That's true, I did like her nerves. But I wanted to tamp down her hair.
Amanda: It did look like her friend set her hair in rollers before the prom. What did you think of Helen Mirren's dress? That was a successful red, I thought. I loved the bejeweled sleeves—actually, the jewelling extended around the back, like a shrug. I heard her say on the red carpet that she'd had it made for her, and it looked like it. She and her sartorial choices are utterly regal.
Julia: And have you ever seen someone deliver Oscar patter with such conviction? Imagine sweet Heigl chirping out that bit about greed and venality; it'd feel so canned. I think Mirren pulled off the dress in the same way. At first glance the sleeves looked a bit awkward and stitched-on-after-the-fact to me. But then she came strutting out with her hot middle-aged hips swishing, and it was clear she felt stunning. Another case where feeling great in a dress makes it.
Amanda: She has such enviable confidence.
Julia: There's one thing we still haven't figured out, though: Who does send the memo saying Girls, this year, it's red! How does that happen?
Amanda: I don't know. I wondered that last year, when it was all Grecian all the time. Who says "red is the new black"?
Julia: Or "red and black are the new blush"? The thing that's remarkable about Oscar trends is that they seem to operate on a fashion plane distinct from regular trends. We didn't see a lot of sparkly blushes in stores over the past few years, and I doubt we'll see a lot of red and black in the coming months. Although I suppose we might see some, since red and black are easier to do well on the cheap than blush-colored and bedazzled.
Amanda: True. Have you ever seen a woman in the real world wear a blush dress? I think you need a spray-on tan to pull it off. As for the red, perhaps the stars were taking their cues from the presidential candidates' wives, who seem to be loving that Nancy Reagan red.
Julia: Hm, maybe you're right: Between the candidates' wives, the Oscars, and Diet Coke's ubiquitous and mystifying red-dresses-will-eradicate-heart-disease campaign, perhaps we'll see nothing else for the next year!
Amanda: We're also entering, or have entered—depending on who you ask—a recession, and then there's the war. It's a dark moment, and red is a cheerful, chin-up sort of color.
Julia: True. It's a color with a lot of bravado.
Amanda: And swagger.
Julia: Well, it'll be interesting to see if it sticks. As for Amy Adams, I liked the bodice of her dress much better than the skirt. The conical cups and that spare notch between them felt sleek, aeronautical and futuristic. The skirt felt like the same old mermaid hash.
Amanda Fortini is a Slate contributor.
Photographs of Marion Cotillard, Jennifer Garner, Nicole Kidman, Helen Mirren, Amy Ryan, and Tilda Swinton by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images. Photographs of Amy Adams, Diablo Cody, Katherine Heigl, and Heidi Klum by Vince Bucci/Getty Images. Photograph of Renee Zellweger by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images. Photograph of Marion Cotillard on Slate's home page by Stephen Shugerman/Getty Images.