The best and worst Oscar dresses.

The language of style.
March 8 2010 7:31 AM

Oscar Fashion Report Card

Zoe Saldana's "ornamental kale," George Clooney's shaggy new look, and why we missed Tilda Swinton.

Zoe Saldana
Zoe Saldana

Hanna Rosin: I really want to start with Charlize Theron's reach-from-behind-and-grab-my-breasts dress, but that would be playing into her Björk-like agenda. Instead, I'll kick off with the dress I've been thinking about the most: Zoe Saldana's crystal-and-purple number. This Givenchy dress (from the Paris shows, apparently) echoed one of the main styles of the night: hard-structured metallic top matched with a waterfall-like bottom. I went back and forth on Saldana's version and ultimately decided it was awful. I think it's because that bottom reminded me of those cabbagelike flowers they plant around Washington in the winter. Also, when she walked, those poufs just got in the way. What did you guys think of it?

Jessica Grose: I saw the cascading fabric at the bottom of Zoe Saldana's dress, referred to as "muppet pelts" by commenter Katelinnea during the Slate live chat, and I thought that was an apt description.

A gown that I wasn't sure about, but decided I loved, was Vera Farmiga's fuchsia Marchesa. I loved the color immediately, but feared the ornate ruffles down the front were too much. After much consideration, I am pro-Farmiga. What other dresses were borderline for you all?

Sara Dickerman: I felt like Saldana and Farmiga were carrying around unruly pets all night. I loved Saldana's bodice and greatly wished it did not turn into an intergalactic cancan skirt down below. Farmiga's color and superb shaping in the rear made me think that her ruffly pet was OK in the end, but I did giggle when I saw her try to cram it all into her front-row seat.

H.R.: Yes I agree Sara, about the seated Farmiga! I loved the dress but it made her look squished up in her seat. One thing I tried to do was judge the dresses from all angles: long view, close-up, standing, seated. Jennifer Lopez's was another one I was on the fence about. From one side—where you can see her lovely rear—it looked nice. And from afar. But from the front, close up, it looked like random coffee filters stapled to her dress.

Amanda Seyfried's dress was similar but much more elegant. I thought Seyfried looked ethereal. It was a subtle interpretation of all this iridescence. It was softer than Miley Cyrus' version, which was somewhere between corset and armor. I liked both of them—but Cyrus is pop, Seyfried is corny. In the art of glitter, each to her type.

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Julia Turner: Hanna, it's an insult to Björk's awesome swan dress to put Charlize Theron's mauve reprise of the Janet Jackson Rolling Stone cover—or, as it was called on my couch, the "boob rose" dress—on its level. Theron's dress was awful not in an ambitious or inventive way but in the more mundane, I-didn't-really-think-about-how-this-would-look-on-television way. I'm with you that Saldana's cool, ice-pink bodice was brought low by the ornamental kale affixed to the skirt. In general, I am opposed to skirts that poufy.

Though I disliked the Saldana skirt, I don't think anyone will dock J. Lo or Seyfried points for their poufery. However, I'd like someone to give the young starlets of Hollywood posture lessons. Several young women paired strapless dresses with slouched shoulders. You've got to stand up straight to pull those looks off.

H.R.: Kristen Stewart was hunched over, jiggling her legs, practically biting her nails up there. Miley Cyrus was positively jerky. Is that an act, or are the youth that uncultured?

J.T.: What did you guys think of Sarah Jessica Parker's dress?

Sarah Jessica Parker. Click image to expand.
Sarah Jessica Parker

J.G.: I thought SJP looked as if she was wearing a satin sofa covering. It was ill-fitting and unflattering. For a woman who has a body that is the envy of much of Hollywood, I don't know why she chose to cover it in a sack. I will say in that dress's defense that the embellishment in the back was lovely.

H.R.: One defense of SJP. It worked close up. Hard silver roses and butter yellow satin are a fabulous color combination. I also liked the idea of metal roses—like the King Midas story, some perversion of the soft and natural.

J.T.: OK, OK, Jess—you're right. I wanted to like it because it was a risk, and the color was interesting, but the beautiful and unusual detail at the neck—how did it stay up? —was undone by the sacklike shape.

As for the youth, I couldn't tell whether they were bringing knock-kneed awe or too-cool-for-this insouciance to the proceedings, but couture does not look good on girls who look as if they'd rather be rocking American Apparel. Why couldn't one of these girls wear something sharp and young and fresh instead of a dress that belonged on a cake-topper? I did like Carey Mulligan's dress, which lightened up the obligatory pouf silhouette with hard-rock spangles and a shortened skirt in front.

S.D.: There were apparently little scissors and knives in all that embellishment on Mulligan's dress! I have to say I loved Maggie Gyllenhaal's painted flower column—beautiful color and a light-handed-ness uncommon to these Oscar gowns.

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