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.

J.G.: The pattern reminded me of Monet's water lilies.

H.R.: I hated Maggie G. The Dries Van Noten fabric was no doubt beautiful but it looked like tie-dye from a distance. And that pink lipstick! It did have youthfulness going for it but only worked really close up.

J.T.: There was a microtrend of patterned dresses tonight—and I loved them! Maggie Gyllenhaal's blue column was gorgeous—I wish we'd gotten a better look—and perhaps my favorite look of the night was Rachel McAdams' gray, green, and gold patterned number. Her dress had a sweeping skirt too, but it looked floaty and walkable, rather than rigid and frumpy. I also loved the dress worn by Sandy Powell, the costume designer who won for Young Victoria. Patterns are unexpected on Oscar night and therefore awesome.

Meryl Streep. Click image to expand.
Meryl Streep

H.R.: Since we've dissected the youth, can we talk about the older ladies? While it was lovely to have such a fine showing—Sigourney Weaver, Meryl Streep, Kathryn Bigelow, Helen Mirren—I really did not love their matronly looks. Weaver's red one strap look (and, yes, I hate the one strap. Curse you, Michelle Obama!) made her look as if she had a single gigantic breast. Streep looked boring and matronly. And Bigelow, who is normally gorgeous, was wearing an especially unflattering gray number. I was hoping for one the over-57s to rock a great look.

S.D.: What was the enormous rhinestone creature parked on Sigourney's shoulder? I love her in her signature red, but this one was entirely too togalike for a foxy woman like her.

J.T.: Hanna, the worst thing about Kathryn Bigelow's dress was the appliqué hearts all over the bodice. What an odd choice!

But I must defend Meryl's dress. I loved the soft, dramatic architecture of the neckline (the skirt, a bit less). I'm with you on Sigourney's woeful uniboob. I also suspect I would have liked Lauren Bacall's trim suit if they'd let the poor woman up onstage.

H.R.: Yes, Meryl looked nice from the waist up. Maybe there's some lesson in here for Oscars dressing. Like Alicia Silverstone's character does in Clueless—you have to take pics of yourself from all angles—close up, far away, waist up, full body—and then choose your dress.

S.D.: Back to Maggie Gyllenhaal: There was a lot of bad pink lipstick tonight. I really liked Sandra Bullock's champagne lace and panne velvet number—not in any intellectual way, just in a sleek Jean Harlow Hollywood way. But the lipstick was so hard and so distracting. Great makeup on Zoe Saldana, who probably doesn't need it, and on Monique.

I felt there was a very dishwater color story out there, beside the blue tones: McAdams, Seyfried, and poor Anna Kendrick, who was wearing pink that felt like gray.

Sandra Bullock. Click image to expand.
Sandra Bullock

J.T.: I loved Sandra's dress. And her lips. The shape was elegant, the pattern intricate, the asymmetry inoffensive. She looked great even though the mesh in back was frighteningly reminiscent of figure-skating costumes. The vibe was retro, as you note, Sara, but somehow not in the cookie-cutter "old Hollywood glamour" way we've become so accustomed to. I thought she couldn't have looked better.

S.D.: I think I would have loved McAdams even more if she had added a touch of color in her makeup or jewels.Why doesn't anyone wear necklaces anymore?

H.R.: That's an interesting question, Sara. In years past I recall the loan from Harry Winston being a mark of importance. Maybe such a thing is embarrassing these days. Washed out is the visual mark of frugality. But then again, there were Carey Mulligan's chandelier earrings, to go with her cute pixie cut.

J.G.: The best bling of the night award goes to Mariah Carey, in my book. She had enormous diamond hoop earrings. Her dress was a rather sedate deep purple, which isn't Mariah's usual MO. But her true spirit came out with those hoops.

H.R.: The fashion blogs were sort of rough on Mariah for her bling, especially her brooch. But I'm with you Jess, mostly because she was so damned good—so surprisingly damned good—as the social worker in Precious. And since she got no official recognition tonight, she might as well flaunt it any way she can.

J.T.: When will these women learn not to wear beige? What strange beige-pink demon has Hollywood in its thrall? Perhaps the actresses who wear them feel they're making a subtle choice, but it always looks mummy-esque. My vote for worst dress of the night: Demi Moore. The bandages were so shiny! The ruffles so frantic, ratty, and crenellated!

Who did you guys think looked worst?

Tina Fey. Click image to expand.
Tina Fey

J.G.: As I said before. Sarah Jessica. Yikes. But I also was sad about Tina Fey's look. The styling was unfortunate—her hair looked like it was teased into a plateau. Her dress was not abysmal, but I've seen her look much better.

S.D.: I agree it was not Tina's finest moment. But Fey as Jane/Betty Paige in spangly black leopard was better than the tweed Zac Posen she wore to the Golden Globes any day! I wanted to like SJP in her Dusty Springfield look—I mean, I got it, and I love a yellow gown—but in the end, it just wasn't purty.

H.R.: This breaks my heart—but my worst of the night might have to be Tina Fey. The dress gave her a sort of off-kilter butch look. Her hair was not pretty. I hate to judge her that way, because she doesn't play this game. But because I love her so much, I always want her to come through with something cool.

J.G.: Now can we speak about the men for a minute? What did everyone think of Robert Downey Jr.'s blue bowtie and matching tinted glasses? And what about George Clooney's shaggy new look?

H.R.: Well, the blue bowtie was silly but I always appreciate any kind of humor, even bad humor, in Oscars fashion. There are only so many ways to wear Tom Ford, after all.

I mostly just want to think about George Clooney's girlfriend. She is such a fox, even though she insists on posing for various European magazines in sheer underwear. And to answer the question, I always prefer shaggy to clean cut

S.D.: Without Robert Downey Jr. and Samuel Jackson, where would we be? In a tedious forest of tuxes with long ties? Bravo, eccentrics!

May I say that I liked Tom Ford's gardenia? And that he sounds surprisingly like Point Break-era Keanu Reeves?

J.T.: What was your overall take on the dresses of the night? A strong crop? A weak one? I thought the field was weakened by the absence of three always-interesting dressers—Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton, and Marion Cotillard—and by the spate of uninteresting ingénues. And Cameron Diaz, who usually wears something offbeat, went straight down the middle in glitzy Hollywood gold.

J.G.: I also lamented the lack of oddballs. I can't believe la Swinton wasn't there to spice things up a bit. Makes one more sympathetic to Zoe Saldana, whose produce-inspired dress might not have worked but was at least trying for something original.

H.R.: I was counting on Kate Winslet, and she disappointed. Usually there is one iconic look—Sharon Stone in a Gap T-shirt and Valentino, Björk's swan—something that stands out. I'm not sure what that would be here. As for overall memorable trend—maybe the metallic glamour? I really liked the different variations on iridescent.

S.D.: There was eccentric (Saldana, SJP) and elegant (Sandra B., M'onique) but not a lot of the two combined. On the other hand, I loved that we saw a few prints out there and some beautiful textures where there were no prints (Seyfried, Kate Winslet). In the end, though I think Sandra Bullock had the most spot-on dress for her big moment.

Become a fan of Slate on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

Hanna Rosin is the founder of DoubleX and a writer for the Atlantic. She is also the author of The End of Men. Follow her on Twitter.

Jessica Grose is a frequent Slate contributor and the author of the novel Sad Desk Salad. Follow her on Twitter.

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

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