The Oscars’ rainbow moment: fashion’s colourful stand for change

The Oscars’ rainbow moment: fashion’s colourful stand for change

Not all protests have to be monochrome. Film stars struck blows for feminism at the Academy Awards in dresses of pink, gold, red, yellow … and furry slippers


For once, the most memorable image of women at the Oscars wasn’t a youthful beauty smiling nervously on the red carpet or weeping glittery tears of gratitude while clutching a statuette. It was best actress winner Frances McDormand, who skipped the red carpet part of the evening entirely, having the female nominees in all categories get to their feet. Mudbound cinematographer Rachel Morrison and costume designer Jacqueline Durran, nominated twice in her category for Darkest Hour and Beauty and the Beast, stood alongside directing nominee Greta Gerwig and actor Margot Robbie. McDormand was in gold, Meryl Streep in red, Saoirse Ronan baby pink, Gerwig in yellow. The four other nominees in McDormand’s category shared a hug. There was no blackout tonight, but this rainbow was the next best thing.

Frances McDormand calls for women nominees including Meryl Streep following her best actoress win.

Frances McDormand calls for women nominees including Meryl Streep following her best actress win. Photograph: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

Time’s Up stood down at the Oscars. There was no black dress code proclaiming solidarity with victims of sexual harassment. Patrisse Khan-Cullors, who wore a pin in honour of the Black Lives Matter movement she founded, was one of the few wearing a prominent political badge. This reflected the mood of the night: host Jimmy Kimmel did a Harvey Weinstein joke, but no woman publicly spoke his name. At times it felt retrograde – did the past five months really happen? – but McDormand’s speech was one of several moments when the optics of the night felt like cautious progress.

I, Tonya is a film about how a successful woman is allowed to look and behave in a modern United States. Phantom Thread is a story about the dynamics between men and women in the public and private spheres. (Lesley Manville almost steals the show from Daniel Day-Lewis, which is no mean feat.) Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird is an electrifying, original portrait of being young and female. In other words, the Oscars are capable with engagement with three-dimensional women. But fashion choices on the red carpet still felt narrow at this ceremony – both literally, in the endless slender columns, and more widely in the polite adherence to the traditions of black tie. A demographic who are the self-proclaimed masters of visual storytelling could use the red carpet to say a little more.

Emma Stone speaks onstage presenting the best director award.

Emma Stone speaks onstage presenting the best director award. Photograph: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Clothes matter at the Oscars. That clip of Emma Stone calling out the gender imbalance in the best director category with the phrase “four men and Greta Gerwig” is surely made more impactful by the fact that she is wearing a burgundy Louis Vuitton tuxedo, fastened with a hot pink sash. (Last year, she wore a fringed silk gold gown.) Maya Rudolph and Tiffany Haddish – next year’s hosts? – used their shoes (furry slippers) to be funny, rather than to look closer to supermodel height. (Rudolph’s turtleneck Valentino gown was chic and original; Haddish’s white Alexander McQueen dress is a running in-joke, since she has worn it several times before and proclaimed her wish to be buried in it.)

Tiffany Haddish and Maya Rudolph.

Tiffany Haddish and Maya Rudolph. Photograph: Craig Sjodin/Getty Images

The Oscar dresses of note this year did not make political noise, but they did made individual, personal statements. Before changing into her presenting look, Tiffany Haddish wore an embroidered ballgown inspired by her Eritrean heritage on the red carpet. Rita Moreno wore the same gown she wore in 1962, the year she won an Oscar for her role in West Side Story. The image of Saoirse Ronan in baby-shower pink Calvin Klein, standing on the red carpet alongside her co-star Laurie Metcalf in a long-sleeved, pale version that seemed like Ronan’s image seen in a foxed mirror, was an intriguing red-carpet companion piece to their onscreen portrayal of mother and daughter.

Saoirse Ronanand Laurie Metcalf on the red carpet.

Saoirse Ronanand Laurie Metcalf on the red carpet. Photograph: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

Margot Robbie didn’t take home an Oscar, but her white Chanel gown symbolised her having scored a win: on the day of the ceremony, she was announced as the latest ambassador of the house of Chanel. This is a lucrative, high-profile role and one which co-ambassador Kristen Stewart has shown can go hand in hand with interesting film choices.

The 27-year-old actor Jennifer Lawrence, who rewrote her personal Oscar script of goofy hem-tripping by deftly stepping over seats in the auditorium while wearing gunmetal sequin Christian Dior gown and holding a full glass of wine, was the exception to an evening in which mature women held the spotlight. Helen Mirren drank a tequila shot on the red carpet in her petrol blue Reem Acra gown. Frances McDormand who won the best actress Oscar, and the night, made reference to the importance of an older generation leading by example when she called on Meryl Streep to stand up first, during her speech. (“Meryl, if you do it, everyone else will.”)

Jennifer Lawerence in her Dior gown stepping over seats.

Jennifer Lawerence in her Dior gown stepping over seats. Photograph: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

The new narrative of the red carpet is that it is about the woman, not the dress, which means that the designers who make the gowns no longer get top billing. But the fashion houses that dressed the most prominent women on this evening were those that have enthusiastically endorsed the Time’s Up campaign. Louis Vuitton, whose designer Nicolas Ghesquière and his stylist Marie-Amélie Sauvé have championed the cause, dressed Sandra Bullock as well as Stone. Christian Dior, whose designer Maria Grazia Chiuri has made feminism central to the brand, dressed Meryl Streep in lipstick red, as well as Lawrence. Donatella Versace, whose aesthetic is a lightning rod for fierce female energy, dressed Lupita Nyong’o in gold chainmail.

Sandra Bullock, Helen Mirren and Lupita Nyong’o.

Sandra Bullock, Helen Mirren and Lupita Nyong’o. Composite: REx/WireImage

Feminism does not mean women wearing black all the time. After the blackout, any other kind of red carpet will inevitably feel like something of a washout. But with McDormand in gold, Streep in red, Gerwig in mustard, Nyong’o in gold and Ronan in pink, the rainbow red carpet kept up a cautious message of hope.

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