First published by The Pool on 9 January 2017
Last night, parting waves of sequins, appliquéd flowers and tulle on either side, actress Evan Rachel Wood strode down the Golden Globes carpet wearing an Altuzarra suit with a white bow at the collarbone. “This is my third nomination and I’ve been to the Globes six times, and I’ve worn a dress every time – and I love dresses, I’m not trying to protest dresses – but I wanted to make sure that young girls and women knew that they aren’t a requirement, and that you don’t have to wear one if you don’t want to, and to just be yourself, because your worth is more than that,” she told an interviewer.
Her words were a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stagnant event. The red carpet has become big business – a supersized ritual pegged on to every public-facing awards event, and an enormous money-spinner. It’s difficult to criticise, because at a superficial first glance, it’s all fluffy and fun – many of us enjoy looking at attractive people in exquisite clothes, and perhaps even more of us enjoy it when they get it wrong. I don’t want to suck the joy out of the whole thing, but it’s increasingly obvious that the red carpet has gone awry.
Tradition dictates that men wear sober suits to awards ceremonies, so these events become simply a line-up of colourfully dressed women, like dolls on a shelf. There will be people in that group who have always longed to be famous and glamorous, and are now in their element: more power to them. But there will also be those who just wanted to act, and now they must be coat-hangers too. We objectify them, and it’s all so formulaic that it’s hard to recall that it hasn’t always been that way. These events used to have an element of spontaneity and personal expression – remember Diane Keaton at the Oscars in 1978, triumphantly idiosyncratic in a long blazer, shirt, and skirt? Remember the world pre-celebrity stylist?
In many cases, actors are contractually obliged to participate in this rigmarole, in order to promote their recent projects. It is tied up with their career prospects; even Lena Dunham, who has always advocated for women who don’t have supermodel bodies, joined the red-carpet circus at the very beginning of her career. But at least she has done so with individuality, most notably with that banana-yellow Zac Posen dress of the 2014 Globes, and by flashing her tattoos at every opportunity. She, like Wood, has an interest in subverting convention, and they’re not the only ones: Octavia Spencer and Kathryn Hahn both forewent the princess look and wore trousers to last night’s event. Jenny Beavan brilliantly wore casual clothes to collect an Oscar last year.
This isn’t about cracking down on the gown per se; it’s simply about reintroducing an element of individuality, which is what makes the whole affair feel human. Some of the dresses worn last night were stunning, but women should have the right to make broader choices than just “Prada or Gucci?” They should be able to say no, I don’t feel like being scrutinised and judged today, or manipulated with Spanx and tit tape. No, I don’t care whether you like what I’m wearing. No, I’ll do what I fucking well please.