The best and worst Oscar dresses.

The language of style.
Feb. 23 2009 4:32 AM

Oscar Fashion Report Card

The Cotillard effect, the bead brigade, and the best dress you didn't see on television.

2009 Oscars Slideshow.

Click here  to view a slide-show about the 81st Annual Academy Awards.

Julia Turner: Amanda, thanks for joining me once again to discuss the bizarre fashion ritual that is the Oscars. Let me begin our conversation with a pronouncement: What a blah night! There were way too many safe and boring gowns. What did you think?


Amanda Fortini: I wasn't blown away by that much, but there were a few standouts.

Julia: Last year, we were stunned by the beautiful, scaly, cream-colored Gaultier number worn by Marion Cotillard, the French actress who won an Oscar for her work in Le Vie en Rose. This year, I thought I noticed a Cotillard effect: Anne Hathaway was encrusted in scaly-looking cream-colored paillettes. (Jay from America's Next Top Model introduced newcomers to the term during the E! preshow, using a football-style telestrator to circle individual sequins; I kept expecting one to start running for the end zone.)

Amanda: And Miley Cyrus showed up in tin-foil tipped fish scales. Honestly, I think she wins the prize for the worst dress. It looked like a tiered cake with those silver beaded things people use to decorate Christmas cookies.

Julia: Dragées!

Amanda: What did you think of Cotillard's dress this year?

Julia: I loved it. I love blue and black together, and I loved the chic belt.

Amanda: I also liked the layers of black tulle, kind of naughty but tempered by the sweet princess style of the dress.

Miley Cyrus. Click image to expand.
Miley Cyrus

Julia: And the I'm-going-out-to-the-cafe-in-jeans necklace. Very casual.

Amanda: Very French, that mixing of high and low, naughty and nice, so that no style or look is too dominant or too costume-y. And a sense of individuality is projected.

Julia: As for the worst look of the night, I think it's either Miley or the usually impeccable Reese Witherspoon. Her blue-and-black number looked so scraggly! I'm afraid Michelle Obama's inauguration gown has spawned a thousand dresses with asymmetrical straps that cross diagonally from the bodice to the shoulder, hitting weirdly close to the neck.

Amanda: Kind of like the straps of a Baby Björn or a backpack.

Julia: It was such an odd thing to be wrong with Michelle's dress that I never thought it would start a trend, but Marisa Tomei's dress had it, and so did Reese's.

Marisa Tomei. Click image to expand.
Marisa Tomei

Amanda: Interesting that the first lady is starting fashion trends rather than following them. We haven't seen that in a long time. Since Jackie O, maybe.

Julia: I know. Although, if she were really starting trends, maybe we would have seen some more interesting color. We saw so many nudes and reds! So few exceptions! Nothing like the amazing citron Michelle wore on Inauguration Day.

Amanda: I'm convinced the pale dress—nude, buff, flesh, Champagne, beige, khaki, however you call it—will never die. Do you think the dresses were perhaps more subdued because of the recession?

Julia: I'm not sure there is such a thing as recession fashion. As many people dress with show-must-go-on braggadocio as with subdued sackcloth.

Amanda: Who do you think took the pull-out-all-stops approach to dressing during a recession?

Angelina Jolie. Click image to expand.
Angelina Jolie

Julia: There was a lot of bold jewelry. Amy Adams was bedecked in that gumball breastplate; Angelina Jolie had those monster emerald-green drops; Taraji P. Henson was wearing what looked like half of a diamond-encrusted snowflake.

Amanda: I was a fan of Angelina's jewels.

Julia: I think Angelina's jewels were the single best item of the night.

Amanda: They were so enormous, so green, so over the top. They looked like they could be either very expensive raw emeralds—they were sort of cloudy—or plastic costume jewelry. It was like they presented a riddle: Are these real or not?

Julia: I was wondering about that, too. Maybe they were costume. Perfect recession jewelry!

Amanda: And probably conflict-free, too.

Julia: I'm sure.

Amanda: I liked Adams' candy-colored jewels. And it's daring for a redhead to wear red. Or daring as far as Oscar fashion goes, anyway. Amanda Seyfried, from Mamma Mia! and Big Love, also wore a red dress, which to me was reminiscent of the red dress Nicole Kidman wore to the 2007 Oscars: Both had oversize red bows, the sort that might look better on a wreath than on a dress.

Julia: Bows can be awful. But I admire Seyfried for being so game—can you believe she was out there in that weirdo musical medley in a top hat and bunny costume?—and so, since the size of her bow was all right, I let her off the hook. Quick Tomei question: Were you for the dress or nay?

Amanda: I have been trying to decide. I think I'm for it. I liked the ornate pleating. And it fit her beautifully.

Julia: It reminded me of one of those segmented children's books, where you can flip a giraffe's head onto a camel's body—I loved everything from the waist down but thought the bodice suffered from Obama-ishly-asymmetrical-and-close-to-the-neck syndrome. It got a bit puckered and ill-fitting.

Amanda: I liked the fit.

Freida Pinto. Click image to expand.
Freida Pinto

Julia: What did you think of Freida Pinto's dress? I thought it was another with an odd neck.

Amanda: I don't think I'm as bothered by the asymmetrical necks as you are. But that one did run perilously close to the throat. Still, she's adorable. And I did like the dress: the color, the beading; it was subtly different. We also got to see, in a couple of instances, the difference between the Indian tux and the American one: There were a few Nehru jackets. It was an interesting night for men's fashion, no?

Julia: Indeed! Philip Seymour Hoffman's knit cap will be everywhere next year, mark my words. On James Franco, on little Zac Efron.

Amanda: Ski-cap formal! It'll be all the rage. And I loved seeing Mickey Rourke, ever roguish in his white Gaultier tux, bad-ass jewelry, and a locket portraying his little dog Loki (who recently died) on his neck.

Julia: I loved Rourke's look. A spiffed-up version of his usual wackadoodle self.



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