There was no Cher, Bob Mackie-clad and half-naked, to galvanize America’s sartorial hatred. There was Lady Gaga, sure, looking weirdly pink and human, or Kim Novak, whose surgically-enhanced face launched a thousand tweets, but overall, the fashion at last night’s Oscars was fairly impressive. Or impressively fair, if fair here means middling and inoffensive. In a lot of ways, last night was a night that women wore dresses that somehow embodied their personalities or philosophies really well. There was not a lot to gasp over, but those who brought it really brought it–I’m thinking of Lupita Nyong’o and Kate Hudson in particular.
More on them later, of course, but let’s get started with a dress that I feel like perfectly represent the blah theme of the night: Jessica Biel. She is a beautiful woman, in (sorry, but it’s true) the girl-next-door sort of way. She’s someone we all could have ostensibly gone to high school with or played soccer against. Pretty, but not regularly transcendent (with some exceptions, like this Versace stunner from a few years ago). Which is why, I guess, I feel like her dresses could always stand to be more daring, more risky, and less, well, beige. It was a sort of metallic, fluid column, reminiscent of Anne Hathaway’s dress from 2009, about which my response was similarly “meh.” Biel can wear anything and still look really pretty, and she did that last night. But especially when she is presenting alongside Jamie “Mr. Conviviality” Foxx, she would be way better off choosing something with personality. Sparkly and neutral are so popular at the Oscars because they’re so safe. But, as CS Lewis once said, “Is fashion safe? ‘Course it isn’t safe. But it’s good.”
I liked Julia Roberts’ dress a lot at first, but the more I saw of it, the less I liked it. On the plus side, her hair was the perfect shade of dark honey blonde to carry off a lacy black dress. And the top was super cute–even the peplum was made a little edgier with the undone lace. (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I think this is the last awards season at which we will regularly be seeing peplum, and I’m okay with that.) But the skirt was so terrifically boring that it made me rethink the whole thing. I feel like I’ve seen that skirt one million times, on girls wearing their first homecoming dresses or Texas moms wearing knockoff St. John. It’s not bad, it’s just not beautiful. And the Oscars aren’t the night to settle for “not bad.”
We could wax rhapsodic about Lupita’s entire triumphant awards season, both in terms of the number of wins she has notched and the stunning gowns she has worn. This has been her awards season, and for so many reasons that is a really exciting thing. Her red dress at the Golden Globes earlier this year was one of the best I’ve seen in a long time, and she has a really impeccable sense of what works on her, both in terms of fit and color. But when I caught a glimpse of her dress (just from the back!) last night, I gasped. First of all, there are not many women on earth who could pull off that color–the blue that she said “reminded her of Nairobi.” It was a sort of sky blue, and the long pleats draped down the skirt for a really dramatic bottom in a look that was still, somehow, light and elegant. The bottom of the skirt was lined with vertical silver sparkles, but they were SO subtle, I was in awe. As a woman with less, uh, shelf than most, I appreciated that Lupita pulled off a really low-cut dress. I mean, Matthew McConaughey’s mom gave us a keyhole to remember, but those of us with smaller chests can get away with showing more of it, and I think the dress embodied the particular kind of feminine strength for which Lupita has become so beloved.
I feel like we are going to get only one look from here on out with Anne Hathaway, and we have seen it a million times. It is more or less a column shape, like the pink Prada number she wore last year or the blue Saint Laurent she wore to the Vanity Fair afterparty. And it’s a lovely look, particularly on her, because she embodies what it means to be gamine, and gamine women do not wear princess dresses or mermaid cuts or anything too flowy. But I curse whatever Deliliah cut her hair; not because it doesn’t look great on her (it does!), but because it has given her the gamine mantle and I’m just a little tired of it. Maybe when she grows her hair out we’ll start to see more like the long-sleeved sparkly Armani she wore to the 2011 Golden Globes, or even a return to that year’s red gown with garbage bags attached to the ass. At least it was interesting. For a woman who wears red like nobody’s business, the boring, colorless columns HAVE TO GO. As it stood, last night, she looked like one-quarter of a disco ball with nothing else to commend the dress.
Two trends we saw a lot of last night: the halfhearted peplum (Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence) and the diaphonous pink column dress with lots of excess draping (Camilla Alves, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Penelope Cruz, who I assume all called each other up beforehand to play an elaborate joke on us all). Adams and Lawrence both looked lovely, as usual, although Lawrence’s favorite Oscar red carpet of mine will always be her mega-babe Baywatch look of 2010. (Also, Amy Adams’ hair was not great and looked like she had just come back from my grandmother’s hairdresser, which, no offense to my grandmother, but her everday life includes playing tennis and going to Bible Study and weeding the lawn, not walking the red carpet at the Oscars.) ANYWAYS, all this is to say that I hope that this year’s peplum will be like the vestigial tail of peplums, that evolutionary step in between what once was and what never will be again. Peplum has, in my well-considered opinion, had its day.
Kerry Washington can, and did, wear a potato sack last night and look gorgeous. The eggplant-taupe (what’s a better word for that color??) thing floated all around her, but had a great slit, lovely ruching at the top, and somehow looked sexy even it its shapelessness. Her bedroom hair might have done that trick.
Olivia Wilde, always polished, looked stunning in Valentino (if not as much to my taste as her emerald green Golden Globes dress). She really looks like a cat to me, and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. Like a sexy, human cat. If we can have Jessica Rabbit, we can have this. Anyways–the ’70s vibe to her whole look was excellent, and I really don’t mind the (almost) all-black look on her because she wears color so well and so often most of the time. Plus, with her hair and those earrings–it was chic and mod. For two.
Sally Hawkins looked uncomfortable. To be fair, Ryan Seacrest’s giant grin makes me a little uncomfortable, too, but she looked like she was trying really hard to will her hair to grow over her face and down to her feet so she could scamper away unnoticed and never have to make eye contact with another human being. And in a display of how wildly different two dresses from the same designer can be, she was also wearing Valentino (same as Olivia Wilde), but this one looked like it came from a terrible accident at the funeral drape factory place. I love a good long-sleeve gown, but to start, she’s kind of petite, so it was already overwhelming. Then you keep the print/swirly business going on over the whole entire dress and it just looks like she’s dying to find some wallpaper to blend into, you know? Cap sleeves would have made the look better; as would a really simple, ivory silk skirt. Hawkins shockingly never called for my opinion, though, so we’ll have to live with this.
Cate Blanchett looked pretty with sparkly sparkles attached to a nude mesh across her upper chest, meeting at the top in an odd sort of mock turtleneck. I’m not a huge fan of nude tones on blondes and redheads, who have license to wear a lot of bold color, but I did like this one on her. I appreciate the risks she consistently takes on the red carpet, and I think the dress was really pretty–feminine, lightweight with some heavier pieces, and interesting. Not my favorite, but not bad.
But my very favorite, the ne plus ultra of Oscar dresses last night and possibly of the last few years, was Kate Hudson’s. Unfortunately she only got like three seconds of stage time to show it off–America needed more of this dress. When our country is going through a time of national crisis, we can look back on Kate’s dress and remember that on that day, for one shining moment, we got it right. I just think this is exactly what an Oscar dress is meant to be. It’s shimmery, ivory-colored and also silvery, with a deep neckline (okay, a stomach-line is more accurate) and knotted fabric just under the, ah, bosom. The top is luminescent, with some kind of shimmery thread woven in, and gives way to a really simple, off-white silk skirt.The way the fabric comes together with in the center and moves outward is architectural, as is the slouchy cape that made it a more Hollywood version of Gwyneth’s 2012 Tom Ford dress. She looked like a bombshell–like Jean Harlow, most of all–and wed Old and New Hollywood together with this ensemble. Whatever that means.
So, pals, this is the end of the road. For this year, at least, the awards shows are done and I am left both bereft and glad for the millions of hours I get back. In the meantime, if anyone wants to send me this J. Mendel dress and a ticket for next year, you’ll have my forever gratitude. And, um, a million dollars.