ast night’s Oscars red carpet was a battle of extremes, a face-off between two opposing sides of the aesthetic spectrum: camp and minimalism. While these dueling stylistic proclivities have manifested at prior ceremonies in fits and spurts (see: Björk’s infamous swan dress and Angelina Jolie’s plain white suit appearing on the same carpet in 2001), this year division seemed starker and more substantial, as if driven by some tacit, collective agreement that the gray area was eliminated and therefore sides must be picked accordingly.
In the camp camp (sorry, had to), we saw Laura Murano sporting a two-toned dress deliciously reminiscent of Country Time Lemonade’s two star flavors and accented by a voluminous bow at the back; Billy Porter in a princess-like black velvet tuxedo gown; Linda Cardellini in the fuchsia equivalent of puff pastry; Sandy Powell in a striped suit and a sizable neckerchief; Gemma Chan in a highlighter-pink confection (with pockets!); Hannah Beachler and Angela Bassett in one-shouldered dresses that could conceivably end up in a museum exhibit celebrating the art of asymmetry; Kacey Musgraves in wearable cotton candy; Spike Lee in head-to-ankle purple and special occasion metallic sneakers; Sarah Paulson in the dress everyone took their phones out for at Brandon Maxwell’s runway show a few weeks ago; Glenn Close dripping in a shimmery gold jumpsuit-cum-cape; J. Lo in silver sequins; Shangela Laquifa Wadley in a lavender gown that conjured images of Versailles and Pharrell in a camo suit. Each of these looks was the definition of Instagram-worthy — a literal procession of viral “material” rendered in every color of the rainbow.
Over in minimalist land, there was Lady Gaga outfitted in uncharacteristic demureness; Helen Lasichanh in an outfit I actually want to copy and wear to work tomorrow (short-sleeved black dress layered over a long-sleeved black T-shirt and black tights); Nancy García García in a relatively simple red dress festooned only by a few floral rosettes; Regina King in beautifully tailored white; Melissa McCarthy in a sleek jumpsuit; Amy Poehler in a straightforward black suit; Laura Dern in a maroon strapless dress with a sweetheart neckline; Tessa Thompson in a subtly ruffled black column dress encircled with gold bands; Emily and Zooey Deschanel in easy, color-blocked dresses; Ashley Graham in a sculptural mermaid number and Queen Latifah in a long-sleeved black dress with a sophisticated sheen. While perhaps not as ripe for Instagram clickbait in the most obvious sense, these looks were undoubtedly crafted for the purpose of making statements, too — captivating attention by virtue of their opposition to the louder fare on display.
I’m not surprised by the sharpness of last night’s sartorial dichotomy; the internet loves an extreme, and the internet is the audience celebrities and their stylists are catering to. But I am curious if it comes at the cost of truly innovative, satisfying style — the kind that moves the needle forward and makes your spine tingle with the stuff of new ideas. Then again, I’m also starting to wonder if the reason I’m always left slightly wanting after a red carpet viewing is not the fault of the red carpet, but rather my misplaced expectations. Red carpets aren’t interesting because they move the needle forward when it comes to style — they’re interesting because they reflect the power that any stylistic decision can have when displayed in such a significant public setting. The power to alter the course of an actor’s career, to send a message about what someone cares about or how they want to be perceived, to showcase rapidly diverging groups of taste that look completely different but are fueled by a desire to feed the same timelessly fascinating beast: conversation.
And feed it they did, because here we are, talking about the Oscars red carpet, a topic perennially worthy of unpacking. What did you think of this year’s fashion? Are you Team Camp or Team Minimalism? Or a little of both? Unleash whatever’s on your mind in the comments.
Photos via Getty Images.