On Monday, fashion's great and good will congregate at one of their favourite meeting points – the red carpet, second only to the catwalk these days – to fête the new exhibition, Charles James: Beyond Fashion, at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. It's the Met Ball, fashion's Oscars. Hence the fact that the co-chairs this year include the actors Bradley Cooper and Sarah Jessica Parker, and the designer Oscar de la Renta as well as American Vogue's Anna Wintour, in whose honour the costume institute will be officially renamed the Anna Wintour Costume Centre on the same day.
But this is a fashion event – a museum fundraiser, with no awards to be given. So the focus will be on what people are wearing, and how they are wearing it. Which raises issues, or rather, questions. Mostly, not what the hell is she wearing, but what the hell is she doing?
The clodhopping-frock disaster is relatively rare these days – with the advent of the celebrity stylist, red-carpet car crashes such as Kim Basinger's single-sleeve satin ball gown at the 1990 Oscars, or the glorified spangled jockstraps and towering feather headpieces sported by Cher to every major awards show in the mid-Eighties (in retrospect, fabulous; at the time, heinous) have been ironed out.
However, I can't help but wonder what runs through the mind of red-carpet treaders when a camera is placed in front of them, given the bizarre contortions that celebrities seem to strike. Case in point: Kylie Minogue at last week's Logie awards, raising her arms behind her head as if airing her armpits. Said pits were perfectly depilated: hair-removal cream endorsement, perhaps? Or a pose to better show off the strapless contours of her Roberto Cavalli dress?
Dress design seems to inspire the most insipid, as well as the gangliest and ungainliest, of celebrity poses. The classic, coy over-the-shoulder shot that has become red-carpet cliché is usually employed to show off a low-swooping back. And 2012 was the year of the slit, with Angelina Jolie baring thigh in Versace at the Oscars, and model Anja Rubik wearing a gown at the Met slit above her hip-bone. Cue squatting, thrusting and popping to bare as much toned leg as possible, and countless internet memes.
Red carpet poses
The red carpet is often dubbed the new fashion show. But maybe it's actually the new fashion shoot, celebrities pouting, preening and posing like editorial models, striking odd attitudes to display innovative design details, such as those ginormous splits. Those features are what mark the frocks out, after all – the gowns that celebrities are often paid to sport, with specifications contractually laid out in minute detail, including how many times a designer's name should be mentioned in red-carpet interviews.
As with a fashion shoot, it's about making money – reinforcing the brand name, perhaps selling some dresses, definitely selling some perfume. The dresses have to be immediately identifiable. And, preferably, a talking point.
It's not all crass commerce. Shifting erogenous zones and points of emphasis have always called for new postures: the bared back of the Thirties originated that over-the-shoulder pose, legs were suddenly kicked in the air to echo the rising hemlines of the Twenties, and there were models striking Minogue's arms-aloft poses in the Fifties, to better show off newly strapless corseted gowns over the newly swelling breasts of Dior's New Look. Given that the images from the Met and the Oscars will have a higher circulation than any magazine on the planet, it's understandable that you'd want to look your best.
Nevertheless, there's something about all this posing that has reached a level of ridiculousness. Especially as it's infecting the every day – even street-style shots, those snaps captured around catwalk shows of the achingly well-dressed, now have a standardised strange pose, legs locked together at the knee to slim and elongate, head cocked to one side. Couldn't they just look at the camera and smile?