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Oscars Trending: On the dread carpet

It used to be the night when looks could thrill. Not any more, says Susannah Frankel

There was a time when hours of entertainment were to be had deconstructing the outlandish statements that the world's most feted film stars made with their wardrobe on the Oscar red carpet. There was always one – and it was usually Cher in Bob Mackie – who took our breath away with her audacity. The sheer nerve of parading near nakedness, or indeed the sheer fabric unwittingly revealing a Hollywood backside once the flashbulbs were upon it, was good to see. Thank you, Barbra Streisand in an Arnold Scaasi trouser suit, for showing us your bottom in 1969.

Then there was Björk who, in 2004, upstaged everyone wearing that Marjan Pejoski swan dress. Po-faced to the bitter end, few commentators got the joke, and this despite the fact that the Icelandic singer went so far as to accessorise her look with a giant egg. It went down in history as probably the worst Oscar outfit of all time. Looking back, it was, in fact, among the finest.

Certainly, there weren't a lot of laughs this year. Gazing at the procession of corseted, strapless, fishtail and/or overblown gowns on display – all be they highly accomplished corseted, strapless, fishtail and/or overblown gowns – one could be forgiven for thinking we'd been plunged into some sort of bizarre mid-20th-century time warp. The polite display in question had little to do with modern fashion as we know it or indeed with anything anyone in real life is ever likely to wear.

Instead, the celebrity stylists – Rachel Zoe and her ilk – continue to exert their stranglehold. They are paid to make their clients look as pretty as a (motion?) picture (and about as emancipated as Barbie) after all. But safety – and avoiding the worst-dressed lists as if existence depended on it – is boring. And the fashion on display on this most over-exposed of all occasions was often that too.

Of course, this all comes down to image control, so central to both today's fashion industry and the stars that risk-free tactics are far from surprising. Blame the media's increasingly voracious appetite too: few women are brave enough to dare to wear anything out of the ordinary knowing that they will be pilloried for it almost before they've made it into the auditorium.

The days when the world's most highly paid, celebrated and beautiful women were prepared to take a risk with their wardrobe appear to be long gone. The red carpet has wised up to any unruly expressions of individuality and that, perhaps, is a shame.